To Serve The Understander (fiction short story)

“…And this is where you will be working, Freedman Omzath.”

Omzath looked around the perfectly cubic room, half filled with the perfectly cubic Understander, a silvery green metal box that hummed with computational power.

Each of the sharp edges of the Understander pointed neatly down the middle of one of the room’s four doorways, currently all open to let Working Scholars in and out.

“You’ve started work,” continued Master Sage Glodis, “right at the end, unfortunately.”

The Master Sage’s face took a sort of gloomy relish at the thought of the impending academic catastrophe.

“We only have perhaps one month’s more work to feed our glorious history’s data into the Understander. Then we become superfluous. Most of you will be sacked, whilst I, despite my seniority, will end up somewhere out of the way acting as a Court Librarian or some such.”

Omzath rubbed his ear, running his fingertips over the mangled notches that had been inflicted on him to mark him as a slave. Then the final indignity was when he had been freed- they had snipped off another large chunk of each ear. He would never forgive or forget this abuse.

But Omzath was diplomatic and intelligent enough to put the fire of his anger and the venom of his resentment deep into an imagined ice cave in his mind, there to be stored against a day of opportunity.

“It is a mighty work, Master Sage,” Omzath told his boss. “A feat worthy of the glorious Darelon Empire.”

“Indeed, Freedman. It is only a shame that the savage hill tribe from which you come has nothing we can add to this store of knowledge. Your barbarian forebears never impinged upon our history until recently and your easy subjugation has led to the Emperor truly being able to say that this continent is now but a Darelon island!”

Freedman Omzath sent more anger into his ice cave and smiled at his arrogant overseer.

“Relevant portions of non-Darelon history are also added, then?”

“Of course. Anything relevant to our Empire, including the disposition of its foes and subjects before their conquest is added. Except where, as for your own benighted people, they simply had no history at all.”

And so a seed of an idea took root in Omzath’s mind.

“We had a secret history, Master Sage…”

“Eh? Rubbish. Your people were nothing more than savages preying on convoys, and had been so since before the combusion engine supplanted the camelox!”

“With all due respect and deference, Master Sage, what you say is true as far as it goes. But what you refer to is the dominant, Southron, group of my people.”

“What’s this? Southron? I am not aware of any such division of your bandit tribe!”

This last was said by Master Sage Glodis in such a tone as to imply that if he did not know it- it had not happened. A common failing of the narrowly educated.

“Master Sage,” Omzath said in his oiliest tone, “there is much that my own group, the Northron, kept from the Southron and from the Darelons.”

“Have a care,” Glodis said, “it is death to withhold information from the Imperial Inquisition.”

“Not I personally, Master Sage, but the moiety from which I come. Long ago, we were a prosperous civilised folk. Our cousins to the south were barbarians all and not in any way disposed to embrace our peaceful learned life.”

Omzath could see his story beginning to engage the Master Sage. And the enticement with which he had baited his hook glistened in the Master Sage’s eyes.

“Long ago, before the first record keeping began, the Southrons overwhelmed the Northron moiety of which I am descended, destroyed our city, and laid waste to the fields surrounding it. Thus the Northron was reduced to the level of the Southron scum and we all were brought so low that we were hardly worth the effort it took to incorporate us within the Empire.”

Master Sage Glodis must come to the right conclusion on his own, Omzath knew, so he said no more, content to wait, filling in data cards for the Understander until his idea had become Glodis’ idea. When a man thinks an idea is his own, he is most loyal to it, and that was the aim of Omzath.


“Yes Master Sage?”

“Is it within your knowledge where this lost city of the Northron barbarians might be?”

“Only in the vaguest way,” Omzath replied, quickly thinking of the maps he had seen, and the vast desert near his homeland in the hills.

“It is said,” Omzath continued, as though summoning from the depths of his memory tiny facts, “that the city of the Northrons was so totally destroyed by thunderbolt and poison that to this day nothing grows in its fields, and the city itself, so long a ruin, is drowned in sand.”

Again Omzath let the pompous Master Sage think things through until it seemed that Glodis and not Omzath had produced this train of thought.

“There is such a desert close to your homeland, Omzath, as may well be the source of this legend,” Glodis said diffidently. “I shall look into it.”

Omzath returned to his normal duties, pleased enough. The bait was set; the trap waiting; now he need only have the patience of the huntsman.


(c) Jonathan Nolan 2014 all rights reserved worldwide.