Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Domus Durum

Ephraim Silver watched as the door of the small shuttlecraft opened. A burly Auxilium in plain black robes pulled out the still unconscious form of Hilda Ashman and slung her over his shoulder. There was only dim lighting in the spaceliner’s shuttle bay; he could see the two disappear through a small door that opened and closed silently.

Silver still held Hilda’s satchel. He was about to exit the vehicle himself when a sliver of metal on the carpeted floor caught his eye. He reached down and retrieved a piece of jewelry, a round pendant on a chain. He slipped it into his inner jacket pocket. Then he got out and approached a large set of double doors.

On these doors was the crest of the Domus Durum, the organization that was Silver’s present employer – a square enclosing a raven with a bolt of lightning in its beak. The intricately carved bird split in two as he walked into the main corridor which ran the length of the ship

The day-night schedule was synchronized with the capital city of the planet they were orbiting. It was late but Silver could still hear the new initiates in one of the chambers chanting the lessons of the brotherhood. It was a constant sound that, in truth, irritated Silver to no end.

Oh how far I have strayed from my family’s world, he thought.

For countless generations the Silvers had been farmers – sometimes poor, more often wealthy – but always working the land. Producing. Creating.

It had seemed so boring to Ephraim. At eighteen he had left home to join the military. Although he knew it had broken his father’s heart, the older man had said it was an honorable and acceptable choice. Rising through the ranks of the Concordance Marines, had seem dozens of worlds and the many ways they fought. Most of the conflicts were minor squabbles with little serious combat. The worlds of the Concordance were relatively peaceful.

But the last mission had been profoundly different; the warring groups the marines were to keep apart were extremely violent. Silver had made a disastrous choice. So many dead. So much blood, it was all he could smell. A tribunal found him blameless. But it didn’t matter, no one trusted him. He was a tainted commander.

And he didn’t even trust himself. No document of pardon could erase the vision of that battlefield. It was always with him. And every night sleep would bring him right back to it. It was as if the insides of his eyelids were painted with fire and smoke and blood.

He resigned his commission and disappeared. He ran as far as he could and one day found himself at the doors of a Domus Durum chapter house. The brothers had welcomed him with open arms. After hearing his story they didn’t pull away in horror or even flinch at the gory details. Instead of admonishment they told him he was brave and good and capable. They gave him sanctuary.

The Domus Durum had come into being some thirty years before. Its origins were a bit of a mystery. Brother Loomis the founder and Grand Regimen said he wanted to bring order to confusing times. He looked at the Concordance and saw the worlds on the brink of social and civil chaos. With its hundreds of worlds and their many cultures, there was always some friction between groups. Silver had always thought the fact that there hadn’t been a major war in over two hundred years was a sign of strength.

But Brother Loomis did not, he said he saw fault lines appearing in the foundation of the Concordance and only through the strict moral code and obedience to the Domus Durum could humanity be saved.

He’s preached this lesson to anyone who would listen and attracted a ragtag group of disenfranchised men. Women, he said, needed to be treated with respect but were not part of the solution. Full members were expected to offer constant service, an adherence to an almost ascetic existence and complete obedience to the brotherhood.

After forty years, he had slowly painstakingly gained a following of tens of thousands, many of whom were wealthy and influential

When he first arrived, a broken man, Silver had been attracted to the code and spirit of the group with its imperial Roman argot, and enticing message. We are virtuous and strong and we will bring true concordance to the worlds. The hardness and purity of the brothers impressed him. His own family seemed so soft in comparison.

And the brotherhood gave him a sense of purpose. Although, he wasn’t a brother, he’d become their special messenger, conveying important, if cryptic, messages. And he had visited the halls of power in the most cosmopolitan cities of the known galaxy.

It was obvious the Domus Durum was gaining real political power. He should feel pride; instead Silver’s heart was torn. He knew of many good works the brotherhood was responsible for – hospitals and schools in poor villages, funds for soldiers’ widows and orphans. At the same time he had begun to see cracks in the apparent diamond fa├žade. Some members high in the hierarchy seemed to live lives of far greater luxury than those in the lower ranks.

Ephraim Silver stood in the shadowy hall of a sleek spaceliner and tried to imagine himself standing in a field on his parent’s farm on the planet Pil. He tried to hear the wind rushing through the tall stalks of wheat and barley. All he could hear was the chanting of the initiates. Were his parents, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters weak? Was he strong?

How could he think of himself as strong when his latest “vital” mission had been to abduct a defenseless woman? How could she be the “terrible threat” Brother Loomis had described.

“Ah, Ephraim,” said a soft, raspy voice behind him. Silver turned to see the aged slightly bent figure of Brother Loomis. “You performed a great service flawlessly. Thank You.”

“It was easy,” said Silver. She barely resisted. I was surprised.”

“Well, those bits of technology – yes, I’ll take them now, thank you – disarmed her. She is quite dangerous, believe me.”

Silver pulled off his gloves. He stretched out his fingers and looked at the thin strips of metal lightly glued to the inside of each finger. He carefully peeled them off and placed them in Brother Loomis’s upturned palm.

The old man grasped Silver’s large hand between his two gnarled ones. Silver felt a chill, perhaps an effect of the tiny machines.

“You are a good man, Ephraim, never doubt that. You should rest now.” The old man turned down the gloomy corridor.

“Sir, what will happen to her, the woman?”

“Don’t worry about that. Her threat will be neutralized, but she will not be harmed.”

Brother Loomis took a few steps and then stopped. He looked up, his head cocked to one side as if listening intently. Silver heard nothing.

“Ah,” said the head of the Domus Durum, more to himself than to Silver, “Yet another enemy is gone. What a good day this has been.”

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