The Pillars of Salem
Copyright 2014, 2015 by Harold Carper
"The Pillars of Salem" by Harold Carper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
The Pillars of Salem
by Harold Carper
"This was all in the adverts," said a young man walking beside old Elkhanan Barlow, a rucksack on his back and a small, glossy black box in one hand. "I don't know why anyone is surprised at having to take the Walk."
Elkhanan peered at the young man through narrowed eyes. Thirty-five or forty off-world immigrants on this Walk, he thought. At least one of them isn't a complete dullard.
"What is your name, young man?" he asked, his voice like a pencil on course paper.
"Yedi, sir," he replied, looking over his shoulder as if to see if someone overheard.
"Don't be embarrassed. Yedi is a fine name. Short for Yedidya if I am not mistaken. How old are you?"
"Yes, sir, it is. I'm eighteen standard. I'll be nineteen in three months."
As they walked, Sergeant Whitley, their guide to Salem, pointed to unusual trees, crops engineered for Tikvah's soil and atmosphere, historic breeds of sheep and cattle, items that should have been of particular interest to people who have chosen to join a self-consciously agrarian culture.
Grumbling faded into footsteps and thin conversation as one hill blended into the next. They followed a narrow road with pavement arrayed in striated green and yellow. It contrasted just enough with the cultivated fields that a body wouldn't lose his way, but not so much as to disturb the rustic elegance of the rolling fields. Tractors whirred or thrummed in the distance, depending on their load. Ballistic shuttles glinted high overhead, racing to schedules set by anonymous bureaucrats far away in Dobair or Tikvah City.
The temperature rose with the sun, and sweat soaked shirt backs and matted hair. Some of the walkers exchanged jackets for hats and water bottles. Elkhanan began to fall behind, Yedi still his ever present shadow. By the end of the second hour, Whitley, slowed the pace of the whole group to compensate.
Complaints rose again like a tide. What an absurd test this is! How much further? Will we have to do pushups next? What sort of insane place have we chosen to call home?
"Mr. Whitley, will you please make this older gentleman board the shuttle? He's slowing everyone down." Elkhanan heard the fat man in the hand-tailored trousers from across the irregular sea of heads and thought of the Hebrews crossing the wilderness and their interminable kvetching.
HaShem, is fire from heaven an option in this wilderness? He laughed, and when Yedi turned to see what the joke was about, he answered the younger man's raised eyebrows with a waggle of his own.
"Sergeant Whitley," answered the uniformed man. "Not Mister."
"Fine. Sergeant Whitley, can you tell the old man to board the shuttle? This heat is killing me, and just look at my pants."
"The old man is Mr. Barlow, and no, I cannot tell him to board the shuttle. I wouldn't if I were able."
"Why not? This exercise will take hours longer than necessary if he insists on walking the entire way. You have a family, sergeant. Don't you want to be home with them?"
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The Pillars of SalemScience Fiction
~5530 words. Yedi and old Elkhanan have arrived on the agrarian world of Tikvah, whose violent and sorrowful past is revealed as they travel toward the town of Salem. Please leave a review if you enjoy the story!