A year had come full circle and Amos Two was just beginning to unravel the complex hierarchy of the Vespers. At least he made some progress, unlike the United States of America.
Phyllis Knox, in spite of her heroic efforts to bring a new government into being, her declaration of martial law and deployment of troops throughout the world to try to bring order as unrest and chaos grew, and her popularity among a devoted segment of the population, lost the election to Troy Holland, former comic, sitcom star, and talk show host. The voters, tired of the restrictive and intrusive nature of her efforts to maintain order, elected Holland on his promise to remove all the restrictions and create a more laissez-faire approach returning civil liberties that had been taken away.
The result of President Holland's actions was an almost immediate increase in anarchistic activity. In spite of the Presidential Commission looking into the attack on Washington, DC and all of the efforts of the NSA, CIA, FBI, and Homeland Security, there were no clues as to who had caused the attack except the continual conspiracy theories conjured up by think tanks worldwide, the occasional claim by some lunatic fringe trying to get publicity, and the finger-pointing by various ethnic and cultural groups growing more and more polarized because the unthinkable had happened.
The hot and cold war between the Palestinians and the Israelis raged on. The disgrace of Iraq and the failure of Afghanistan further widened the schism between Islam and the rest of the world. As China and India gained economic stature, the price of oil and natural gas continued to rise, putting a strain on the developed world's economies struggling to keep up with inflation caused by the price of fuel. In the United States there were two choices: a young person could either enter the military as millions freely did on their own, or ally themselves with one of the many political and religious causes that were cropping up as protection against what appeared to be the unraveling of democracy. College enrollment suffered most as young people saw no point in further education with the world in such great peril. The insidious erosion of world health by global warming was met with action spurred more by fear than optimism.
Car bombings became common. Unemployment and its pressure on the male psyche led to incident after incident where individuals, totally alienated and disaffected, took it upon themselves to either take a weapon and wreck havoc until they were shot or subdued, or worse, create a bomb. Instructions for IEDs were all over the Internet and readily available to those young people who wanted to make a bomb of their own, either to blow themselves up as some kind of demonstration of their martyrdom, or to blow up others who they felt they hated. Worse yet, there appeared to be a growing number of orchestrated anarchistic attacks against the very commercial infrastructure that ran the country.
Of course, Amos Two knew nothing of this. Even though he was connected through satellites to the Internet and a television network, he was not allowed to, nor did he even try, to view the daily news. From his viewpoint high in the Cathedral, he did see a steady stream of new recruits arriving as the high schools graduated their seniors, offering few options if they didn't plan to go to college. Every day now, he was seeing new faces among the pions. Some were rotated to work for him. Like Elijah, he told them to, "keep their noses clean." Some were quite good at working with computers -- geeks. He warned them about that, too. He saw people leaving, too. With so many recruits, the Vespers could be more selective. What all of these eager young men didn't know, but he did, was that they would almost all be gone by Halloween.
After the rush of Easter, and the dismantling of the special equipment required for Pius One to declare that, "Once again, Jesus Christ has risen on a new day into a new world for the 21st century." His message, seen by over 5 million people worldwide, was so uplifting for the troubled masses that a tremendous outpouring of generosity poured into the Vespers' coffers. With Amos Two’s cameras he picked up the demonstrated offerings of the faithful. Coupled with what was sent in to the address he had to flash on the screen, he figured it was in the multiple millions.
Once again the trillions splendored the forest floor with a carpet of white and new green and Amos Two savored their beauty every day going and coming to the Cathedral until they faded and the planting season had begun. With the work in the Cathedral almost finished he wondered what his next assignment would be. He didn't have long to wonder.
"Knock... knock. Knock... knock." Amos Two could hear the sound of knocking in his dream. Someone was at the door. He woke up. The fog lifted. It was the door. Someone was knocking on it. He grabbed his robe and slipped it on. He didn't have time to grab his cross.
"Yes, who is it?" No one had ever come to his door at night since he had become a brother. He was being cautious.
"It's Brother Thomas One. He has requested to see you. I'm sorry about the time of the night, but he will be leaving in the morning and just decided to see you tonight. May I come in?"
Amos Two slowly opened his door and seeing that the brother was alone let him in. He was sure that the others had heard the knocking but he didn't hear any evidence that anyone else was up listening. From time to time he had heard others come and go in the night but he chose to ignore them knowing that the cameras were always on and could see him easily, even in the dark.
Brother Thomas One began to whisper once he got inside. Amos Two closed door behind him. "I'm sorry, but you'll have to put this blindfold on. At some point, when he trusts you enough, you won't have to wear it. In the meantime, put it on and I will lead you where we need to go."
Amos Two raised the familiar scarf to his eyes and tied it tightly. After Thomas One checked it, they slipped quietly out the door, out of the brothers' residence and into the spring night. It was cool and damp and Amos Two could smell the fragrance of many spring blooms in the air. They got on an electric cart similar to his and sped off into the night. In the distance, Amos Two could hear occasional dogs barking, the chirping of birds in the nest, and the hooting of owls above the incessant low whine of the electric motor and the squirming of the rubber tires on pavement.
Once again, they set off in a northeasterly direction. Amos couldn't tell how he knew, he just knew. In 15 minutes, he knew that they had entered the compound because the sounds of human activity, while muted, were more prevalent. Like before, they parked the cart and Thomas One lead him to a door that he unlocked on the side of the building. There was no rug to wipe his feet this time, only one floor that felt like marble and the sound of their footsteps reflecting off a much wider hall. There was sound up ahead -- music -- Amos Two hadn't heard music like that since entering the Vespers the year before. Jazz. Billie Holiday crying her heart out. Thomas One opened a double door and the music became much louder. Once inside, he whispered into Amos Two's ear, "You may remove your blindfold now."
Amos Two was blinded by the brightness of the room. It was gleaming white from the marble floor to the marble walls to the muted, cloudlike ceiling. It was furnished with elegant chairs and couches covered in the finest teal-colored leather. There were paintings on the walls reminiscent of a museum and colorful accents to break the monochromatic white. Pius One, in an immaculately white pants and vest set with a bright blue silk shirt, accented by a darker blue cravat sat on a leather stool at the white marble and ebony bar with one foot on the brass rail, the picture of James Bond on an evening out. There were others in the room, equally flamboyantly dressed, at the bar and lounging around on the furniture. Most striking where the young ladies, all in evening dress and spread around the room like flowers. Blondes, brunettes, redheads, and exotic beauties. Not something Amos Two thought he would ever see at the Vespers.
The One had seen them come in and called out, "Brother Amos, it is so good for you to join us this evening. What? You did not wear you cross? I will overlook it for now, but you must wear your cross. Your cross is your status in the Vespers. Without it, you are nothing -- a pion. Do you want to be a pion again? I think not. I overlook it because I think you have promise. You have passed every test. You have not whined. You have not gossiped. You have not been overly curious and stuck your nose where it shouldn't have been. You have not acted the fool -- well, maybe once -- chasing after and killing dogs. Courageous but foolhardy. Unlike most of the riffraff here, you have knowledge and skills that benefit the order. That is why I called you here this evening. Come. Come here to the bar with me and have a drink. We'll talk."
Amos Two felt very strange in this environment dressed as in medieval monk in this ultramodern setting with all these beautiful people watching. But he didn't hesitate, he couldn't hesitate, he just looked Pius One in the eye and walked directly to him, his sandals making a shuffling sound on the marble floor until he had seated himself on the bar stool opposite the One.
"What's your pleasure, Amos Two?"
Once more, Amos Two decided that it would not be appropriate to hesitate. "I'll have a Finlandia martini like you're having."
Pius One, looking pleased, replied, "Actually, mine is a Bombay, but I believe we have what you want. Bartender? How would you like it?"
"Straight up with two olives."
"A fine choice, brother. They say Three Olives is the best, but I prefer gin"
They both remained silent while Amos Two watched the bartender prepare his martini topped off with two green olives. Pius One spoke first. "As I said before, you have passed the test to become a more permanent member of the order. It's all up to you. You can continue to do the work that you've been doing -- which, by the way, is superlative -- or you can move to the next level and join my inner circle. As you can see by our surroundings, my inner circle does not live like the rest of the order. Like you, everyone has to earn the privilege, to be trusted, before being allowed to enter the inner sanctum, so to speak.
"You have become familiar with the computer network that manages our operation. You have probably noticed, although you did not stick your nose in, that most of the network is devoted to security. The nature of the world since the blast is that there are those, mostly alienated and disaffected, who would want to harm us, both from without and within. That's why I have to maintain a security force. However, without my extensive surveillance system I wouldn't be able to determine if, say, some wacko decides to drive into the compound with his car filled with explosives and blow himself up in the name of Allah or some other lunatic cause. I have established my perimeters with enough space so that our cameras can detect someone who might crash a gate, enter the compound, and kill someone. If a gate were crashed we have time and the tools to act, you know, remote devices.
"On the other hand, we may have someone, say a pion or brother, who becomes disaffected in our ranks and decides to do damage to me or our fellowship. I can't have that happen. That's why I have to weed out so many. So many are just unprepared to live the life of the order. They have had bad upbringing and they want to bring it inside. If I let them stay, they will destroy us. Only the purest of heart—the most honest and straightforward--like you, will be allowed to stay. The rest are just like all the other unwashed millions who struggle everyday to survive in the world that only gives them enough to starve on. From their ranks come the terrorists, come the evil ones who try to bring down God and country. I cannot save them. I will not save them. When all hell breaks loose and anarchy reigns, we will be prepared. I am creating a utopia here where the best and the brightest will survive that world to come. And that's where you come in...
"My chief of security, Joseph One, we call him Joseph or Chief, will reach that magic age soon, like Elijah One did last year, and will need to be replaced. It is a big job and will require that you leave tinkering with computers behind. However, since you understand them, unlike Joseph, you'll be in a much better position to assist me in securing this place from all the threats that will be coming. What do you say? Would you like to join us in the inner sanctum?"
Amos Two had been listening intently and sipping on his martini. He suddenly noticed that it was all gone and the alcohol was rushing to his head and making him feel warm. Except for the wine at Thanksgiving, he hadn't tasted alcohol in over a year. A bit embarrassed, he hoped that Pius One hadn't noticed his indiscretion. Still, knowing that he had to, Amos Two responded without hesitation. "I'd be delighted to serve as chief of security, Your Holiness," just as he had practiced over and over in his mind while listening to Pius One's lengthy explanation of why he was here.
"Bartender, please refill our new chief of security's drink. I want to toast him for his unflinching willingness to join the inner sanctum and help me keep the filthy world out while we create the next paradise right here."
Once again there was silence while the bartender mixed another martini for Amos Two. Once the glass was placed before him, Pius One, his eyes sparkling as much as his perfect teeth and his well-placed diamonds, raised his glass to Amos Two's and pronounced, "All raise your glasses to our next chief of security, Amos!"
The others in the room rose and raised their glasses. Amos raised his hand and touched Pius One's with a clink. Pius One announced, "A toast to our new chief of security. May the Vespers, under your sharp scrutiny, live long and healthy!" He seamed to purposely avoid, “prosper.”
With the toast over, everyone relaxed back into their previous activities. Amos took a sip on his second martini and felt the warmth of it all, the world at peace around him. Pius One leaned forward and said, "We will began your training starting tomorrow morning. I will have someone take you out from breakfast to get you started. Please feel free to finish your drink, but I have to leave. When you have finished, I will have Thomas take you back to your quarters (he motioned to a man apparently standing guard at the door)."
Pius One downed his drink and slipped off his bar stool. He moved smoothly toward the back away from the door that Amos had arrived in and picked up two ladies in the process. Amos saw them, arm in arm, rounding the corner out of sight beyond the bar. No one came up to talk to him, so he just sat there alone, looking like a salesman in a strange city, and waited until he had sipped his martini dry. As he left the bar stool, he noticed a certain lightness in his step and uneasiness his gait. It took all of his concentration to make it to where his escort was standing without looking a drunken fool. He hoped and he succeeded. Once again, Thomas helped him put on his blindfold and they reversed the steps they had taken to arrive at the inner sanctum. He immediately fell asleep as his head hit the bed, but he didn't sleep long. He awoke with a tremendous urge to pee and struggled to get out of bed. After relieving himself he felt much better and returned to bed. He didn’t get much sleep after that thinking about what was to come.
He got up like usual and headed to the dining hall to eat. He went to the cook and ordered two eggs over medium. He had just finished eating when a familiar face approached. It was the same guy who had come to his rescue when he was bitten by the terrier.
"Hi, I'm Lucas Three. When you're ready I'll take you to Joseph. That day when I rescued you, I never thought I'd be calling you, Boss."
Amos raised a hand to shake his. "Hi. You don't have to. Just call me Amos. And let me put these dishes away and I'll be right with you." Amos returned his dishes, took Lucas Three with him to his room to see that he had everything needed for the day, closed his room and followed Lucas Three out into the bright sunshine of a beautiful spring morning.