Understanding the Man
The Vespers, Late May
Amos Six was picking strawberries when he heard the bells ring out from the unfinished cathedral tower. It was nearing the end of May and the berries were in peak season. They were very sweet and he admitted to himself to stealing a few. Still, his red stained hands also smelled of manure, lying just under the straw beneath the strawberry plants keeping the weeds at bay. When he saw the others drop their berry picking baskets, get up from their workstations and began moving towards the barracks, he decided to follow, knowing the consequences if he didn't. He hadn't heard the bells before, only the chimes. He guessed that this must be something special.
The multitude of brown robes with a few yellow accents converged on the barracks just like they did every time they were called to convene for lunch or supper. It never ceased to amaze him how the disparate brown and yellow forms merged into a single river of moving hoods bobbing in the sunlight. A sea of humanity in the service of the Lord. He purposely held back, letting the others go first, just so he could view the sight.
Suddenly realizing that he was being left alone in the berry patch, he had to jog, almost tripping over his yellow robe to catch up. As he followed the line of brown and yellow humanity around the barracks to the front he caught a glimpse of a white, stretch limousine and heard the pions began to chant, "Praise him, Praise him, Oh praise him... the One. He is, he is... the One. Praise him... the One!"
Amos Six also arrived just in time to catch a glimpse through the throng of the limousine door open and Pius One step out, resplendent in a white jumpsuit more like one worn by a Las Vegas entertainer than the leader of a religious sect. Amos Six couldn't help thinking of the pop star and his adoring fans. The only thing missing was the paparazzi. He didn't see or hear anything that would lead him to believe that anybody was recording this grand arrival.
The pions kept up their chanting, and so as not to be singled out, Amos Six joined in. He kept saying to himself that he was not going to let all the ritual and mind numbing dogma get to him -- must keep thinking of higher things -- like it seemed to be getting to all of the others. The chanting reached a crescendo and then died out, as though on cue. It was then that Pius One chose to speak:
"Oh, my chosen ones. It is indeed wondrous to return to the land of the Vespers. For I have traveled far. I have gone to Katmandu and conferred with the Dali Lama about the mysteries of Buddhism. I have traveled to Delhi and talked to the Hindu priests to learn of their ancient religion. On my return to United States I traveled to Cancún and Mazatlán and mingled with the crowds at Spring Break to learn of the rites of passage for young people and to recruit more pions for our great undertaking. I have been most successful. Many who have chosen to take the right path and join us as one will join us soon. Let us celebrate in the Lord. Let us Hail Mary! God is good. God is good."
With that, he raised his hands and the brown and yellow multitude parted, leaving him with a clear path to the barracks. Once he and his entourage had entered the building, everyone returned to their workplaces. Amos Six could feel the warmth even though no one spoke. When he looked at their faces he saw a smile and a glazed-over look that scared him. Like hypnotized, most pions were clearly under Pius One's power and had little will of their own. Amos Six vowed that that would not happen to him. He had been at the Vespers for three weeks now and, except for Hector Two, he knew no one. It was this isolation and focused devotion that kept everyone in check. And the fear. He sensed fear in all the pions. He couldn't pin it down, but he sensed it. Maybe it was the smell. They say an animal can smell your fear. Maybe that's what it was that he sensed—the smell of fear. He had to find out what made them so afraid. For now it was all about work. Work would keep him healthy and clean. Work was good for the mind and for the soul. Work gave him purpose. Amos Six would devote himself to the work, not to Pius One. Spring Break, indeed. Aside from saving lost souls, the Pius One was having fun.
That evening, after supper, things were different. The pions exhibited a glow that Amos Six had not seen before. It permeated the room. An aura of utter devotion and expectation. There was no mistaking the silence of anticipation. As always, before the meal, the screens came alive. This time it wasn't a DVD of the exulted one. This time, he was live.
"Good evening, my fellow pions. It is such a pleasure to return to the Vespers and see how fruitful our land can be in the springtime. Yea… though I have traveled throughout the world… to the far corners of the globe… I have not seen, anywhere, a land so beautiful and plentiful as the Vespers. We live in the land of milk and honey. This is our New Canaan. Our promised land. My brothers informed me that we have just purchased 465 acres to add to the New Vespers. Oh, God is good… Oh, God is great. From here we will create a new Holy Land where we will prosper to eternity and heaven will await every good pion who makes it happen. Thy will be done and every one will share in the bounty. Amen and God bless." Pius One faded from the screens and the chanting began again.
That Sabbath, Amos Six was treated to the Pious One's first live sermon. It was broadcast on his cable television channel and reached an audience of over a million people. Contributions were pouring in from the faithful ones. His booklets and pamphlets were selling like hot cakes on the Internet and in religious bookstores. His forays internationally had led to followings in several countries and his broadcast was being translated into ten languages, including Hindi and Chinese. Families wanted to send their errant and prodigal sons to be pions. Most applicants were turned away. Some families had their sons’ tattoos and piercings surgically removed. Reattaching foreskin was another matter. The way Pius One saw it—once a Jewboy, always Jewboy. While Pius One courted the world for money and power, he had a very narrow view of what the world of the Vespers should be. Gradually, through chinks in the rhetoric, Amos Six learned what his Highness’s real agenda was.
As Amos Six worked on various parts of the compound, he began to get the lay of the land. The barracks and the cathedral were the only part of the compound that the public would see. There were at least four other residences like the barracks. Amos Six hadn’t been shifted yet, but any attempt of the pions to communicate with others than their mentors were reprimanded and transferred. Amos Six heard them come in the night and take the offending pions away. To the young, inexperienced pions who heard these events, it was fearful. To Amos Six it was just another way to exert mind control.
Set back into the woods about a half-mile from the cathedral was another residence -- the personal quarters of the Man himself. A 10-foot high fieldstone wall from stones gathered on the property surrounded a nearly three-acre compound that blocked the view for of most of the pions. Behind this wall was where Pius One and his inner circle -- the brothers -- lived. Amos Six was not sure how he would earn his way in, but he knew he had to. For now, he would try to keep his nose clean and his head down and worked hard to see if that would get the Man's attention. They taught him in the Academy not to go too fast, not to expose himself too soon. He would bide his time until his time came. He had years.
The summer passed quickly as they harvested onions, beans, peas, sweet corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe, and finally, potatoes, peanuts, squash, cabbage, apples and pumpkins. Thanks to hands on care and natural fertilizers, the harvest was bountiful and they sold most of the produce they grew to companies like Whole Foods, Inc. The rest was stored in underground bunkers that were hand dug and covered over with saplings covered with topsoil and sod. Roots from the grasses in the sod quickly made a very thick and strong roof over the bunker. Inside, the underground climate maintained a temperature of 55° year-round. Equipped with heavy wooden doors and a good supply of water, each bunker also made a good bomb shelter with a ready supply of food.
There were several ponds on the property. Some of them were already on property that Pius One bought. Others were made by having a bulldozer create an earthen dam to block a creek. The creeks may or may not run continuously during the summer. It didn't matter, except that the continually running ones had better water. These ponds varied in size from small ones that you could throw a rock across, to the largest, constituting a lake of several acres. The small ponds were teaming with frogs, bullheads, perch and sunfish. If there were no bass in the ponds, they were also overflowing with crawfish. All of these critters became food for the pions' table. Amos Six especially liked frog legs and crawfish, even though he'd never eaten them before except during basic training. Of the fish, he liked perch best. In the larger ponds, there were small mouth and largemouth bass. The primary food for the bass was crawfish. Amos Six liked perch better than bass, but then, all fresh fish tasted good. He couldn't tell anyone at the table that he had tasted Arctic grayling and lake trout. The lake was supposed to have northern pike, crappie and walleye. Amos Six never saw any of that on the table.
There were several barns and milking parlors where pions milked 500 cows daily. A tremendous amount of manure was shoveled and washed into huge underground storage pits where it produced methane, liquid manure a thick, grainy substance that was used for fertilizer. Unlike the neighboring Mennonite farms, Pius One used modern equipment and techniques to get the job done. With the pions as a young, energetic source of manpower, the Vespers produced a tremendous amount of output, far more than the ascetic needs the pions required. Amos Six calculated that it was in the millions of dollars each year. Combined with the proceeds from the television ministry, Amos Six concluded that the ascetic cult was rolling in dough.
While their diet was mostly vegetarian, Amos Six made sure that he ate enough fish, eggs and cheese, and drank enough milk to make sure that he got enough protein. They slaughtered cattle and pigs on the property and sold fine cuts of grass fed beef, ham and sausage. While the smell of sausage and ham curing was overpowering near the processing sheds, pions were not allowed to eat any of it. The meat products were all sent out as organic meat to be sold. Knowing how Pius One operated, Amos Six thought that he probably had some of it passed off as kosher. Jews and unsuspecting gentiles could buy his expensive meat raised by Catholics.
Every day or so, Hector Two would change Amos Six's work assignment. Most of the time he worked alone. Some of the time, like when he was harvesting vegetables, he would work with others. However, he was not allowed to speak to them or they to him unless instructed or asked. Some of the faces became familiar, but most were not. This was all part of the control scheme that the Pius One had worked out to keep everyone isolated in his control. Amos Six focused on the beautiful natural surroundings to keep himself from falling for the mind tricks that were affecting the others. He did see some of the pions in yellow robes with anguished looks on their faces as if they were thinking of escaping. Some of those seemed to disappear, although it was hard to keep track with the way everyone was moved around and work assignments changed so much without conversation. At least working hard helped him sleep at night and not think too much about it. Doing boring work some days, he would try to think of the times he spent on the mountain, the friends he had made in high school, the Academy and his military training. Thoughts of that bear kept him awake and gave him a chuckle. He kept focused on his goal -- to move up in the organization. Pius One was his bear now.
Finally, at the end of his workday after the evening meal, Hector Two came to his stall and brought with him new brown robes. Hector Two told him that he was no longer a pion in training, but a pion. After that he gathered up Amos Six 's yellow robes and left. No induction. No ceremony. Just a change of robes. Still, it felt better not to be singled out so easily anymore. In all his time at the Vespers, Amos Six had not seen any computers--only the big plasma screens in the barracks. There certainly were computers where pions couldn’t reach them. He often wondered how Carl had gotten his e-mail out if all the computers that pions had brought were confiscated and none were in use by the pions. This, and other mysteries kept him on the lookout and thinking. At least the Pius One was not reading his thoughts yet. Or was he?
While the corn harvest was partially automated using corn pickers and machines to chop the stocks for silage, Amos Six was assigned to a machine that stripped the corn from the cobs. It was in a shed and good to get out of the hot sun—hotter in the brown robe. The smell of the fresh corn being removed from the cob was unbearably sweet and Amos Six found himself sampling it until he became sick and got diarrhea. When he returned to the machine it wasn't working, so he took the electronic controls apart and found the problem, a bad connection. Later, when the machine bogged down, he took it apart again, and, using a file he sharpened the blades. A short while after that, Hector Two came by.
"Well, Amos Six, I see that everything is going well. Already this morning you have prepared two barrels of corn for canning. That's more than any pion is ever done in such a short time. Trust me, the Pius One has taken notice of your accomplishment. He has also noticed that you have a facility with electronics and machinery. That will be in your favor. By the way, his Holiness frowns upon pions stealing the fruits of our labor. Please do not eat any more corn." Hector Two raised his nose in the air, turned and left. The silence left behind was palpable.
Amos Six continued feeding corn to the machine, but his eyes strayed. He searched every corner of the small shed he was working in until he saw them. A spot on a can on a shelf, up to his right, and a knothole that didn't look quite right to his left. In the can and behind the knothole were cameras trained on whoever was working in the room. They probably were recording sound too. Big Brother was watching. He should have known. He should have spotted them already because he knew what Pius One was about. He was probably even been recorded in the fields from cameras mounted in trees. He was probably been recorded when he went to the bathroom. He had a feeling the Pius One would enjoy watching him do that. Better check his room when he got back.
That night, before it got dark in his stall he looked around and found it. A camera had been placed opposite his bed in the ceiling disguised as a knothole in the natural wood. Amos Six was careful not to stare at it or look at any camera too long. He didn't want anyone knowing that he knew that the cameras were there. Up until now he hadn't done anything that he thought anyone would see that might give him away. But he didn't know. He hoped he didn't talk in his sleep. He knew he didn’t talk to himself. Would have to be extra careful from now on. Eyes and ears were watching.
The next morning, a special assignment awaited him. Hector Two picked him up in an electric cart and drove him to the top of the bluff where they were building the cathedral. He was assigned to the aluminum shop where they were fabricating aluminum decorative pieces as part of the façade of the shining aluminum and glass structure. The steel had all been placed in the previous five years. Now, what remained was to cover everything with aluminum and create the kind of image that the Pius One wanted for his edifice to heaven on earth.
Amos Six was given a most difficult task. Guessed that he was being tested. With a copy of Michelangelo's, Pieta, as a guide, he was asked to carve out a frieze of her torso in solid brass to be attached to the aluminum framework. Amos Six knew he was no artist, but he was familiar with woodworking tools, so he picked up his gouges, sharpened them on an emery wheel that was provided for that purpose, and began carving on a large block of brass that he had drawn a pencil drawing of the image on beforehand. By noon, he had a large pile of shavings to sweep up and the face of the Virgin Mary emerging from the block of brass. The face was the hardest part, so Amos Six was pleased that it was going so well. Glancing around the room, he saw a camera, in plain sight filming him. Hector Two arrived with a brown robed Master who appeared to be responsible for construction. They conferred for a while over the image that Amos Six had carved. They were smiling and that was a good sign.
The Master spoke: "We usually have to melt these down and start over. But, in your case, I'm willing to give you an opportunity to carve the whole thing. I see you've learned the Masters' technique -- carve slowly in small strokes until you get the desired effect. Where did you get that, young man?"
"I don't know." It was strange for Amos Six to hear his own voice, having been silent for so long. "I did some wood carving in high school, maybe that's where I got it. Also a little taxidermy. Just taking my time and trying to do what I was told."
"Well, young man. You won me over. Go ahead and finish the piece for me, okay?"
"Okay." Amos Six returned to his work, only to look up and see Hector Two motioning for him to come. He followed the two of them as they left the cathedral to a small building supporting the construction. Others had gathered there to eat. He heard the chimes just as he lined up behind the others to get his midday gruel. It appeared things were a little bit more relaxed for people working on the cathedral. He wondered what would've happened had he not done well on the brass carving. Before they heard the chimes again, most of the workers returned to their work as soon as they finished eating. Once again, not wanting to be singled out, Amos Six ate quickly and followed the others back to his carving. That evening, Hector Two took him to quarters that were a little more spacious than his stall in the main hall. His robes were all there, along with his boots and underwear. There was no padlock on the door. Things seem to bit more relaxed. They still chanted during the morning and evening meals to the big screen, but it was a little less Spartan, a little more collegial, setting.
It took him five days to carve the piece and polish it. The flow of her cape and gown, like her face, were especially difficult to master. He was quite pleased with what he had done, but tried not to show it because he didn't want to draw attention. His hands hurt from all the activity but he tried not to show that either. He would work through it. The Master told him that he had to make nine more identical pieces. It became a little boring at times, but he worked through it. Finally, by mid-September, he was finished. The trees were beginning to turn, reflecting off the many facets of glass and aluminum that the structure provided. It was a brilliant piece of work. He began to me admire his fellow artisans and their dedication to the multiyear task of completing Pius One's vision. Wondered what his new assignment would be.
"How are you with electronics?" The Master said.
"I worked for a while on some computers at an Internet cafe in Chicago."
"You seem to be a lot smarter than most of these jokers around here who can only do one thing. We've got to make this building a state-of-the-art showcase for what electronics can do. You know -- the smartest building around. Smarter than any building ever built before. His Holiness wants it not only to be the most beautiful cathedral in the world, but so smart that it stands out among buildings and shows the promise of the Vespers to the world. I know nothing of electronics. I am the bricks and mortar builder faced with constructing a building of steel, aluminum and glass. It is all I can do to keep up with that. I need someone to help me make this building smart and I think you may be that person. You will be rewarded. Are you up to the task?
"I'm not sure, but I will try. I will learn. I will do my best. I will do whatever his Holiness requires. That is my purpose, isn't it?"
"I guess it is. Please come with me and I will take you to the planning room where you can begin to lay out what is needed." He turned and Amos Six followed him through the labyrinth that was the underground portion of the cathedral until they arrived in a room filled with computers and printouts of drawings of various portions of the building. "Start with this." The Master handed him a roll of drawings and pointed to a table where he could roll them out and examine them.
Amos Six soon found himself on the Internet searching for supplies and equipment to flesh out Pius One's vision of the smart cathedral of the 21st century. He was in way over his head. They were not allowed to bring in outside companies, so he had to buy the equipment and install and test it by the manuals alone. Many times he wished he had someone to show him the way, but somehow he managed to put together an infrastructure for the entire building that would allow him a plug-and-play with technology that Pius One wanted to put in the building. He started with fiber-optic cable and BACnet IP Ethernet at 100 Mbs. To that, in strategic locations around the building, he added wireless nodes. He connected everything to an equipment room in the basement filled with wiring and racks and a powerful multiphase antenna at the peak of the spire ingeniously hidden in the aluminum superstructure.
The Master found other pions to help him with the wiring and troubleshooting -- guys with more "techie" ability than he. But he remained in charge of the overall design and execution of the smart building concept. Amos Six often wondered why he had been chosen because there were so many cameras and bugs already installed everywhere. Surely, there were pions with more ability than he to work on the epitome of the Vesper experience? If there were, where were they?
The pions working on the cathedral seemed to have a bit more freedom than the pions working on the rest of the Vespers. Still, there was this nagging feeling that he was being watched. He was on the Internet every day but never once checked his mail or sidetracked to web sites that might offend his Holiness. Amos Six new that there were computer programs that could track keystrokes and monitor his activities while on the Internet. He knew also that any utterances that he made to himself in any room or even outside on the farm could bring him down. He immersed himself in the work and tried to keep his eyes open for the obvious -- a bug here, a camera there -- something that would alert him to being monitored.
Thus Amos Six found himself in a schizophrenic world where he was both the oppressed and the oppressor. Knowing that he was being monitored at every turn while he was installing equipment that would enable the Pius One to monitor others more. If it allowed him to get closer to the Man, so be it. Time would tell.