Vespers at the Vespers
Amos Six viewed his mission with a whole new purpose. There was an urgency now, but he didn't know how to speed things up without giving himself away. Guess he would just have to tough it out, lay low, and try not to let Pius One's abuses get to him. Trying not to think about it too much, he dove into his work.
After they had removed all the pyrotechnic triggers from the Great Hall, they began an intricate wiring scheme for lighting the Christmas Vespers. From what the Master told him, Pius One wanted to have a Christmas Vespers show televised that would reach more than his usual satellite religious channel audience, calculated to be about 300,000 viewers. In the meantime, he had an affair for Thanksgiving to prepare for, too.
Thanksgiving was all about the meal. While the pions had simple meals most days of the year, Thanksgiving was the measure of the harvest of the farm. A week before the feast, the pions were given tasks to prepare pumpkins, squash, beans, corn, potatoes, cranberries, duck, geese, venison, fish and turkey for the feast. In addition to the tables in all the dining halls, a great oaken table was being built on the floor of the Cathedral as the centerpiece for the Thanksgiving feast. Pius One would sit at the head of this table. Amos Six was given the responsibility of making sure that all the lighting, music, and orchestration of this great event would occur with computer precision--with the computers, software, and devices that he would have put into place and operation to do it.
Amos Six would not be one of those sitting at the table. Instead, he would be in the improvised control room, monitoring all the computers and camera monitors that would be synchronized, and, hopefully, put on a great show leading to the Christmas Vespers. At least he would not have to run the production. The Master told him that Elijah One would do that, Pius One's long time Sunday broadcast producer.
"Six, all I can tell you until I know more is that after the Christmas Vespers, Elijah One will be replaced. I want to you to understudy him, to work with him, until you understand how he puts together the weekly broadcast. Let me know now if you don't want to do it and I'll try to find someone else. You know how vindictive the One can be. I wouldn't want you to get in over your head...." The Master was being cautions, trying to protect him.
Amos Six thought for a moment. Like all the others, this opportunity came out of the blue. He wondered if Pius One was making all the decisions for the Master. It didn't matter. Each move would get him closer to the Man. Each move would help him overcome the Vespers cruel cult sooner. He was afraid--afraid he couldn't do it--but more determined than ever to carry out his mission. "Okay, I'll do it. Does Elijah One know that I will be his understudy?"
"I don't know. Elijah One has never reported to me. He was there long before I was hired to build the Cathedral. I am not a member of the Order. I'm under contract. I plan to leave this terrible place as soon as I finish my work. I have offers from other places, but I start what I finish. I'll be here until the Cathedral meets its design and my high standards. That's why I chose you. You share my high standards and are not afraid to learn. Those are rare qualities among young people these days. No, I think he is leaving because Pius One must surround himself with youth. Elijah One turns thirty just after Christmas. He will be banished like the rest. At least he will have a craft that he can sell to the outside world. So many don't. There isn't much call for an over the hill monk these days. But then, there never was."
Amos Six had never seen the Master wax so philosophic. Usually, he was a man of few words, and those words were strictly business. This time, the Master had given him more insight into the perverted mind of Pius One. That's why everyone looked so young. The Man got rid of all of those he considered to be over the hill at thirty. That meant he only had seven more years to get close and change things. He felt like he was moving up through the organization quite rapidly, but the pressure of time was upon him. It was okay. He needed to get out of there as quickly as he could, anyway. Still, there was a lot going on that he didn't know and he wasn't sure that he cared to.
Even before Thanksgiving all of the pions were given auditions to test their singing ability. The good singers were singled out from the poor, and classified from soprano to bass. After some shuffling of living stalls, all of the singers came to the barracks by the Cathedral. Beginning November 17, they practiced every day for 10 hours in the Cathedral. At first they were destined to fail. A discordant cacophony of voices trying to find harmony. The music Master was harsh, and banished those who could not blend in with the other voices. One by one, they packed up and went back to other housing and work with the harvest and the feast. Gradually, after a few days, the true sound of the young male choir began to emerge. Mixing medieval with the cherished anthems of Christmas, a joyous sound began to fill the Cathedral every day as the choir practiced, and practiced, and practiced. Although the constant practice sometimes interfered with efforts to get the Great Hall in order for the feast, it was good to hear the sounds of Christmases remembered. Some made him cry. He hid it from the others. Going off to be by himself when those thoughts rose to the surface.
Like everything else, Thanksgiving was great theater. Pius One came dressed as a pilgrim along with most of his entourage. Notably absent were women, children and Indians. No one seemed to notice. Or at least they made sure that they didn't notice. The Thanksgiving service broadcast that evening to the faithful consisted of many camera angles of the bounty of the table laid out like an orgy thrown by some medieval king where, after everybody gorged on as much food as they could and vomited the excess into receptacles provided for that purpose, got roaring drunk on mead or wine and raped all the women in sight.
Thus, there were whole roasted pigs with apples in their mouths. Rows of roasted turkeys and geese with their legs thrust up and their innards overflowing with a cornucopia of stuffings, encircled by rows of apples, cucumbers, melons and squash, split open and steaming. The choir sang and wine glasses were lifted until the brothers who occupied the table became drunk and unruly and were discreetly removed from the Great Hall, one by one, by Pius One’s personal security. It became difficult to maintain the broadcast without showing the drunkenness and commotion. While the pions at other tables ate as well, as the brothers, they had cranberry juice instead of wine, and although they left the table sated, were not unruly.
Pions brought food to the control room for Amos Six and his two helpers. To his surprise, they brought a bottle of Vespers vintage wine, too. Amos Six stopped at two glasses, but his helpers, Mark Eight, and Joshua Seven quickly finished the wine and followed it with mead that they asked the pions to garner from the table below. Fortunately, the broadcast was over before they got roaring drunk and obnoxious. Six chuckled to himself as they staggered around the room filled with monitors saying things like, "Yes, Your Honor, I will present my bare butt to you, old Pius, pompous One! This moon's for you!" That one, proffered by Mark Eight, had Joshua Seven rolling with laughter. He soon heaved his guts out right in front of them on the control room floor. The smell was overpowering, So Amos Six closed out the show and cleaned up the mess, sending Joshua Seven to his stall and asking a belligerent Mark Eight to help. After a struggle with Eight, Six had to ask him to go to his stall as well. When he finally got back to the monitors Pius One had left with all the brothers and the Great Hall was empty.
When Amos Six left the Cathedral it was snowing. Already about 8 inches had accumulated and the bluff was transformed into a wintry wonderland. Warmed by the wine, he wanted to take a walk. Let the cool air and pristine snow cleanse his thoughts as he walked through the night. But no, he was being watched, and even something as innocent as a walk in the dark would bring undue suspicion his way. Instead, he took a moment the study the swirling snowflakes coming out of the sky into the light by the millions and gently gathering everywhere, including his head and shoulders, and then trudged directly off to his stall in the barracks next to the Cathedral. The air in the barracks was not much warmer than the air outside, but he didn't notice. He was full and comfortable. Six crawled into bed and was soon fast asleep. He dreamed of Santa Claus and sleigh rides in the snow turned to white, powdery dust. No matter how he washed, he couldn't get it off until Elizabeth appeared as an elf, her breasts escaping her tunic as she feverishly washed his privates until he was engulfed in her embrace.…
"Wake up. Wake up... " A voice in his head was telling him to wake up. He heard the chime and jumped out of bed. In five minutes he had showered and was waiting at the table. The table was half empty. Those that remained began chanting and an angry Pius One appeared on the screen.
"There is no greater sin than sloth. Today, the 27th of November is like every other day at the Vespers. It is a day of prayer, hard work, and homage to our mother Mary and the Lord Jesus Christ. Yesterday, I wavered. Following the great American tradition of Thanksgiving, I gave thanks to our Lord and proffered up the bounty of our Order for the world and our Lord to see. For those pions who suffered the harvest and made the Vespers what it is, I offered a treat, no, a retreat--a day without hard work and a day of great pleasure in the glory of the Lord. How am I rewarded? Through my all-seeing eye, my minions are not present. My pions have violated their sacred covenant with the Vespers... and with me! [Pius One slammed his right fist down hard on the podium--all the pions at Amos Six's table jumped in unison] This cannot go unpunished. I hereby decree that the brothers see to it that each and every one of the pions not currently present at the table shall be given five lashes and fast on bread and water for the next ten days." Pius One's expression was pure evil as he rose stiffly and turned away from the podium. Six was reminded of another great orator from the violent past. The screen went dead, and the whippings began.
Two brothers came from somewhere and began opening the stalls where the wayward were still sleeping and began dragging them out, one at a time. Each one was asked to bend forward over the end of the dining table, gripping an edge in each hand, while a brother using a bamboo rod that left a nice welt wherever it struck, whipped him. Each disgraced pion was then given bread and water and locked back in his stall. His robes were exchanged for red ones, signifying his shame. This process went on for about two hours until all the wayward pions had received their punishment. By that time, the pions of the table were no longer hungry, but they lined up anyway. Amos Six, as shaken is any of the others, managed to force down some food before they were ordered to begin chanting again. It was just one more example of the total control that Pius One commanded. It made Six shudder even to think about it. So he tried to put it out of his mind and get back to work.
His work was made harder because two of the pions that worked for him on the Christmas Vespers project were in lockup for ten days. Still, he made progress and the ten days passed quickly enough as he worked with Mark Eight and two other young pions he still had to get all the wiring in place and the software working the way Elijah One and Pius One wanted. As if to cover the red, bleeding welts and scarlet robes, the snow began to fall again. The Vespers had not seen so much snow in many years. Some would blame it on global warming, but Amos Six thought that it was just a seasonal anomaly. While the pions still shoveled most of the walkways, Pius One had plows installed on some of his SUVs, making the miles of roadway within the Vespers passable. Soon the snow banks on either side of the road were nearly 10 feet high and growing. The plows could no longer handle that depth of snowfall. Mysteriously, two huge snow blowers from the Rocky Mountains appeared. They were brand new and capable of removing very deep snow by blowing it 30 feet or more from the roadway. It was amazing to Amos Six that the Man could obtain such equipment while the whole Midwest was suffering the same dilemma and municipalities were clamoring for relief. It must've been the power of his cash or the bribes he offered. Somehow, shipments of the electronics he ordered and other supplies for the Vespers celebration got through, too. Divine intervention? He doubted it.
All the snow changed the character of the landscape from one of bounty to one of beauty. The stark whiteness of the snow against the dark winter bark of the trees in the hilly landscape was breathtaking and looked right out of Currier and Ives. Hidden, were the scars of new construction. Hidden, were the stripped and harvested fields. Hidden, were the sins of the pions, red buried in white, the all-consuming color of Pius One. Hidden, except in the minds of those who had witnessed. Amos Six would not forget. Most of the pions already had.
The Christmas Vespers went off without a hitch. The combinations of red, and then blue, and then white, and then red again monochromatic displays, set against the snow and the gleaming aluminum, glass, and brass of the Cathedral superstructure were breathtakingly beautiful and well synchronized with the choir that had honed its voices into a world-class instrument being heralded around the world. Pius One's Vespers message was toned down and traditional. It reached more of his faithful than any other broadcast up to that time—over 2 million viewers. The One was all about setting records. Amos Six knew that every succeeding holiday they would have to produce a bigger and better show making sure that Pius One's worldwide following and donations would continue to grow.
After the Christmas Vespers, Christmas was anti-climatic. Pius One toned down even further, praising mother Mary and her son of the Immaculate Conception, Jesus. The traditional manger scene was set up outside the Cathedral and manned, 24 hours a day by the pions--some playing the part of Virgin Mary, and some dressing up lavishly as the three Kings. All of them suffered from the lack of heat and poor clothing protection. Pius One didn't seem to care that almost no one saw the manger, especially after midnight. Six heard rumors that there was frostbite.
There was a Christmas dinner. Once again, a toned down version of the Thanksgiving feast. It was obvious, from Six 's observation high above the table on the Cathedral floor that the pions were not indulging like they had done the month before. Apparently, they had learned their lesson. As it turned out, the day after Christmas, it was Pius One who was absent. When Six looked around the table, he found that every seat was filled. They had learned the lesson well--but at what cost?