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Cleansed by Fire
Chapter 5, Blood and Tears (continued)
For what might be the last time in his life, Bechan Adym realized, he was standing before the HaKotel HaMa’aravi—the Western Wall of Jerusalem which so many outside the Hebrew faith had saddled with the term Wailing Wall so many centuries ago.
Bechan thought back to the stories of the old wall, from before the Conflagration, which was nothing but stone. Much of that remained, but was now surrounded by and filled in by irregular-shaped slabs of transplast and polysteel, upon which flashed images from the Jewish past. The painful things they must never forget: The Egyptian captivity, the Babylonian oppression, the ancient Crusades, the Holocaust and more, including the Final Crusade itself—which was indiscriminately aimed at the Arabs and caught Israel in its wake, so much like the original Crusades.
In these modern times, the AI-controlled wall itself truly did wail at times in painful recognition of millennia of the Jewish suffering that went hand-in-hand with its endurance and triumphs. It would also moan, and weep water at times like gigantic tears. Stone and smartplast, old and new, nature and technology.
Bechan said a silent prayer before the Kotel and then proceeded to a small public syna nearby. He entered the modest temple and regarded the four silver bowls at the entrance. He plucked a small piece of unleavened crackbread from the first, baked with bitter herbs inside to recall the trials the Jews had survived since becoming the Chosen People of Yahweh. He dipped in in the second bowl of salted water to recall the tears shed, past and present. Then into bowl of honey, for the sweetness of the Lord’s deliverance and blessings. And finally into the bowl of dried lamb, for the protection of the angels of Heaven.
He chewed thoughtfully on the Sacred Remembrance and then removed his shoes and socks, stepping into the long Cleansing Pool on the way to the inner chamber and letting the warm water purify his steps. At the end of the pool, he set his footwear aside on a long, low table and turned as Rabbi Brifel Mann entered from a small side room.
“Bechan,” he said with a nod and a smile. “I had hoped you might reconsider.”
“Israel is my home, but it is also our prison. I have places to go if we are to ever be free from our most recent would-be masters. You have your tools?”
“I do, and I will remove your IDentipod with as much care as I performed your bris, Bechan,” the rabbi said warmly. “To what end, though? Our nation is ringed with thousands upon thousand of security pylons and monitored by a hundred satellites. When you are sensed, without the device inside you, you will be caught quickly.”
“I will have no toys of the Catholics in my body as I travel. I will not have it,” Bechan said. “And the pylons I do not fear. There are other paths,” he whispered, nodding to the floor.
“The Vatican collapsed those many tunnels long ago.”
“There are still ways through the rubble.”
“And how many survive that journey?”
“As Yahweh wills, rabbi,” Bechan said. “If I die, then I was not fit for His purposes. And where better to die and be interred than underneath such holy ground, even if it does mean being crushed under tons of rock?” That last he said with a smile and wink, but the rabbi frowned.
“Feh! If you do make it, contact the Voudoun; they will know how to reach me.”
“The Voudoun—necessity breeds such strange alliances,” Bechan noted. “Maybe they’ll loan me a zombi for my journeys. Something to do the heavy work and not force me listen to small talk.”
Brifel removed his blades and small clamps from a black satchel. “We should begin then. I will miss you.”
Bechan hugged the rabbi’s neck and kissed his cheek. “And I will miss your wife’s cooking as I munch on field rations and random weeds. I will reach the Outside. I will.”
“When you do, I will raise a toast in your honor,” the rabbi said, as he deftly cut open Bechan’s wrist. “If you do not, the Kotel will weep for you as it has all before you.”
The meandering sheet of obsidian flowed as far as Bohlliam could see in either direction, with sand and ash and loose rocks everywhere else from horizon to horizon, punctuated by a few hardy cacti and palms. The transformed remains of the Great Causeway, centuries ago a straight and kilometer-wide path of granite and colored sand and now a simulated river made of black glass thanks to the Conflagration.
Angel City. The land of the intentionally lost—and no city at all for centuries. One of the few places the Catholic Union didn’t bother seeding with security pylons. Bohlliam could see stirrings in the distance; perhaps an ash storm on the way. He considered whether to simply seal himself up in his hut for the remainder of the day and night, but there was that slow-moving crawler in the distance, on a path that refused to deviate. A path straight to him.
I never asked to be a prophet for these people, he thought sourly. And I have that emophage infection to thank for the flipping honor. I only wanted to be alone.
Still, it might mean an offering of fresh food and maybe a good rum or verdemead to wash dinner down with. Something that would let him sleep through the dreams of others that always crowded his own.
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