I remembered, then. I was sixteen when I stood in the vaulted, musty Temple, taking my final exam, right hand inserted inside a small box of clear plastic. Within, the silver machines that made Profusionist metal seeped around my skin, tingling and itching. While the Historians watched, I willed that the machines become hard as stone, then free and fluid as water. They did neither.
Nauseous from failure and over-sweet incense, I withdrew my hand. The great technologies of the world would remain forever dark to me. The mysteries of the relics of that time when humans crossed the void between the stars would never exalt my consciousness. No sentient machine would ever answer me.
Yet I was now in a Well of the Profusion, a house of such machines. The walls and floor and ceiling were all made of them. The sarcophagus was not for the dead, but was itself some kind of machine. There would be machines too small to see, laboring in the air to cleanse it of our breath.
“Del Tanich, behold your ally,” said a strong, smooth voice. I jumped. But it was of course my companion, who had finally woken up beside me. And when I turned to look at him I nearly started again. For I knew him, in the way that nearly everyone may know a particular kind of person.
A shrine in the Market square displayed his piercing green eyes. Coins of the realm held his taught thin face and hairless head in sharply etched relief. His commanding baritone had authorized a hundred laws in my own lifetime.
“Our Faith,” I said, pressing my palms together and my fingertips to my forehead, as do all those who meet any more powerful than they. My hands shook, and now my stomach ached with hunger. My voice came out high and cracking and weak, as though I had not used it in a very long time. I realized that I wore only the sackcloth shirt and trousers which prisoners of the Temple wear.
A warm hand grasped my wrist. “The Faith is dead,” he said, moving my hands away from my face, “and there will be no other. I am Jerem Cozak. The Faiths came to give men peace. I’ve come to give you war.”