THE MONK WHO HATED LATIN

By Frederick Rustam

Can't see anything with this darned hood on!
 

A Report to The Holy See of an Investigation into the Reported Sabotage of the Digital Memory Arrays Holding the Sacred Archival Facsimiles Accumulated at St. Abelard's Monastery on the Planet of Erintara

Respectfully Submitted by
Brother Malachy, Ordo Benedictis, Inquisitor Praecipuus

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 Incommodum

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When I began investigating the power failures in the Latinium at St. Abelard's, the Abbot pointed me toward a Brother of whom it was said that he hated Latin and spoke it badly. In the course of my investigation, I discovered that this was a common fault of the monastery's residents. The state of the holy language was truly parlous throughout St. Abelard's. Although the monastery's mission was based upon the model of those medieval-Terran Irish monasteries which preserved the sacred and profane knowledge of their age and passed it on to future generations, the Rule of St. Abelard's of Erintara was a far cry from that of those ancient Irish houses.

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On his way to the Casa Turbina, Brother Jude passed the Claustral Prior, Father Odilo. He bowed in respect and cast his gaze downward without stopping, as was expected of him. Neither man smiled; it was not required. Father Odilo rarely smiled, on any occasion.

The Prior was, in effect, the master of the cloister because he wandered about, monitoring the conduct of the monastery's residents. A demerit from Prior Odilo was a black mark not easily erased--- at least from the Prior's mind. A chilly reminder usually served to correct, for a time at least, the improper conduct viewed.

While Abbot Hugh sat in his study, dealing with paperwork created by the monastery's information service, the Claustral Prior ran the mundane activities of St. Abelard's by giving face-to-face orders and by closely supervising the work performed by the monks and their hired servitors.

Except within the Latinium.

There, the Tech Prior, Brother Maiol, was in charge. Within the Latinium, only the Abbot could countermand an order of Brother Maiol's. He had two degrees in the arcane information arts from the Polytechnicus Vaticanus on RomaNova. The preservation of the monastery's sacred writings was his responsibility. It was an important one. The Latinium was a place considered more holy than the monastery's small neoRomanesque cathedral with its high barrel vault and eclectic plan.

In that sanctum sanctorum of Latin scholarship, the Claustral Prior was just another speaker and reader of Latin. Prior Odilo had come up through the ranks like a sergeant-major. He had early chosen general administration over scholarship. Like Brother Jude, the Latinium was no place for him to be. But unlike Jude, Odilo expressed no animus toward Latin and its primary role at St. Abelard's.

Even a vagrant thought about the Latinium, though, was enough to furrow Brother Jude's brow. He hated Latin.... Of course, he understood that hatred of anything was prohibited by the Rule, and was most un-Christian as well. But he had taken the cowl in late adolescence, after his habits of thought and action had been formed by the secular world.

He hated having to study an almost-dead language when he entered the Columban Order on his homeworld. He did not appreciate his assignment to St. Abelard's on Erintara. That place had a strong tradition of Latin usage, at least within its Latinium, but Jude spoke no "foreign" tongues. He was just a greasemonkey whose only contribution to the Latinium's mission was to keep its standby power facility in running order. He also kept the rest of the monastery in good repair by regularly getting his hands and robe dirty.

He had learned Latin well enough to speak some conventual discourse of a memorizable nature: greetings, prayers, and such. But not well enough to follow the Abbot's pronouncements in Chapter. Brother Roger of the Latinium staff interpreted for him. Roger had named himself after the ancient English monk, Roger Bacon. He was proud of his Latin skills, and needed little urging to demonstrate them.

Among themselves, most of the nonscholarly St. Abelard's monks preferred to speak Universal, the galactic lingua franca. There was no other common language among them, save the dreaded Latin. Only when Prior Odilo was nearby, did the Brothers of St. Abelard's use the tongue of Rome. Brother Jude wasn't the only one who found the many declensions and conjugations of the Church's ancient language to be daunting.

Some within the Church had tried to promote Latin Sine Flexione (Latin Without Endings), a proposed interlanguage. But adoption of it would have broken the literary link with the Church's revered past, and so this easier version was rejected by the Vatican, now located on its own planet, RomaNova.

As Brother Jude neared the Casa Turbina, he began mumbling sourly to himself. "Without me, there couldn't be any Latin stuff here." This was a bold exaggeration, but it contained an element of truth.

It was Friday, the day when fish was served in the Refectorium, instead of red meat. The ancient Columban Rule prescribed a primarily vegetarian diet, but that stricture like so many others of ancient times, had been relaxed in the subsequent millenia. The current Rule was a liberal, eclectic mix of practices that better served the essential recruitment of young men to the monastic life---a life little practiced in these postspiritual times.

Friday was also the day when Brother Jude tested the standby power.

He unlocked the door of the Casa Turbina and entered its only room. He walked around the shiny, compact gas turbine and its connected generator, and over to the control panel. St. Abelard's power plant was old-fashioned, but serviceable. The new compact fusion reactors were still too expensive, and they required too much high-tech training and maintenance.

Solar power was out of the question on cloudy Erintara. The settlers of the planet had chosen that world for its resemblance to the Ireland of Terran memory. That green island had been laid waste by continual warfare between Catholics and Protestants. In the relentless fratricide, even the ruins of ancient monasteries had been destroyed.

Out here in the unexploited forests of Erintara, well away from the capital city of Baile Atha Cliath, the electric power often failed when tree branches fell on the cables carried on short poles through the narrow forest right-of-way. The Abbot had asked the Power Authority to trim the trees farther back from the lines, or to elevate the cables onto tall towers, but this request received a low priority. It might never get done. Religious institutions like St. Abelard's were not very high on the Authority's list of projects. There were new factories and commercial informationaries to be wired and powered.

Brother Jude pushed the TEST button on a relay box. It clicked loudly into its detent. This interruptor-switch had been designed so it could not be easily, accidentally pushed.

Inside the box, electricity tapped from the incoming feeder cable and running through the solenoid coil of a big sensing relay was interrupted---as it would be if the power failed, accidentally. The relay armature fell down with a CLUNK! onto contacts in the turbine starter's power circuit. The starter motor spun the turbine rotor, and the fuel pump was actuated.

Modern standby power systems used solid-state sensing circuitry. This was more reliable than relay-sensing, but the builders of St. Abelard's had used most of their funds on the data processing and communications equipment of the Latinium. The rest of the monastery received what remained. This financial pattern was closely followed in succeeding years.

The turbine ignited smoothly and sounded its upwhining note of increasing speed. The lamps on the dummy load began to glow yellow, then white, as the generator ran up to speed and prepared itself to carry the Latinium's power load.

Brother Jude listened closely to the sounds made by the turbine and generator. He had a good ear for mechanical things, which he had gained by repairing groundcars. (He also maintained the monastery's two old utility vehicles and the Abbot's limousine.) Jude could often diagnose incipient trouble by listening to the sounds of the running machinery. Anomalous sounds were ominous sounds.

Nothing sounded anomalous today in the Casa Turbina. The standby power system had responded to the simulated test outage by starting and spinning up to speed smoothly.

The digital facsimiles of the Church's sacred writings in the Latinium were safe, for now. The multi-terabyte-sized, volatile memory arrays which contained the precious document files would be sustained by standby electricity if the mainline power failed. Backup power cells located at the Latinium's computer allowed an uninterrupted transition from mainline to local standby power.

Brother Jude checked all the lamps and meters to be certain that the machinery was functioning correctly. He checked the lubrication points to be reassured that friction was under control. Then, before he shut down the turbine, he dutifully made certain the incoming power was still up to specs, even though he could tell from the Casa's interior lighting that it was okay.

He reset the sensing relay.

The turbine whined down as it was deprived of fuel. The lights on the dummy load yellowed and faded out. Jude checked the fuel level in the tank. There was plenty remaining. He would not have to place another delivery order for several months---if the Power Authority's cables snapped no more often than usual. In late autumn, he would top up the fuel tank for winter service.

The machinery ceased its frantic rotation. The only sound now was the crackling of cooling metal, as the system returned to the thermal normality of cold standby.

Brother Jude gave the turbine and generator a perfunctory sweep with a wiperag. This gesture was, for him, the equivalent of grooming a faithful horse after a good run along the forest road from town.

The monastery had two riding horses, but they were mostly for the recreation of guests, and Jude was not the conestabulus who took care of them and the plowhorses. His only stable duty was to keep its gate hinges greased and swinging smoothly. And to muck out the stalls when Brother Claude, the garden assistant, was not available for the task.

"I'm a `factotum.' That's Latin for slave," he grumbled, sotto voce.

"What's that you say, Brother Jude?" Prior Odilo stood in the open doorway of the Casa Turbina.

("How long has he been there?") wondered Brother Jude, anxiously. ("He's always creeping up on me, trying to catch me doing something wrong. I should have closed the door.")

"I was just praying for the machinery, Father," he replied in a respectful tone of voice. "I said, `May God save...'"

"Is your test complete, Brother?" The Prior ignored the obvious lie.

"Yes, Father."

"Well then, run along. It's almost Terce, now."

The second Office of the daytime thus demanded Brother Jude's presence. Attendance at the Offices was spotty in the relaxed atmosphere of St. Abelard's---an atmosphere the monks preferred, but which Prior Odilo sought to subvert in his daily ritual of observation and correction. Their Rule still bore St. Columba's good name, but it now prescribed that only those monks not at "essential" work need attend the Offices and chant the hours. Duties in the Latinium were deemed essential. When the Claustral Prior reminded a Brother of an Office, however, that was a virtual order to attend, regardless of the perceived essentiality of his work.

Such reminders were never delivered in the Latinium, though.

Brother Jude headed for the Eloquium---as the Chapter House in this contemporary, neoLatinate monastery was fancifully named---to mumble what he recalled of the chants and prayers.

 

Res Abbatem

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Abbot Hugh is an Irishman who takes great pride in the mission of St. Abelard's: preserving and propagating the Latin writings of the ages. When the Italo-Serbian War on Terra destroyed most of the Vaticanal edifices, and its many other wars made Planet Earth an uncomfortable place, the Papacy followed the Church's communicants to the stars. It took its surviving records to the distant planet of RomaNova. By that time, the Monastery of St. Abelard's was well- established on Erintara. Its archives contained digital facsimiles of many of the destroyed Latin records of the Church. Also stored there were Latin translations of some documents written by the nonclerical scholars of ancient Terra. The monastery has, in addition, a sizable library of incunabula: rare ancient books.

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"We make our documents available to scholars, those distant and those who arrive as visitors. We regard our mission as equivalent to that of the Irish monasteries which, during the first Dark Age of Terra, preserved the written knowledge---not only of the Church, but of ancient Greece, Imperial Rome, and other high civilizations. We view our mission here very seriously."

The Abbot added, "Although our model is the Irish one, our house is named in honor of the great teaching canon now rehabilitated by Rome, St. Peter Abelard. We deemed it a fitting name for a house devoted to propagating Latinate knowledge and philosophy."

Abbot Hugh was a fiftyish, easy-going monk/priest. His usual sunny outlook was evidenced as he briefed the Special Inquisitor. His green eyes twinkled. His positive disposition was customarily preserved by having two Priors to carry out his orders at the working level. But neither of these worthies had been able to prevent the catastrophes known as the Blackouts.

His suddenly-pouty expression returned the colloquy to the matter of his concern. "That's why we were so disturbed by the unexpected deletion of our precious data in rapid-access memory."

"You have the original files stored on nonvolatile media, I assume?" the visitor inquired. Vatican records were vague about this, as if the monks of St. Abelard's desired to conceal the exact nature of their coveted archives.

Brother Malachy was a short, plump Benedictine of the old order and a Latin scholar of some repute. He was of the Abbot's age. He had been empowered as a Special Inquisitor by the Vatican when the Abbot had requested help in solving his sabotage problem. Because of the importance of St. Abelard's role in supplying rare Latin documents to clerics and scholars, the request was given top priority.

Malachy's own record as a skilled Inquisitor was well-known. The Vatican often used his services in situations where discretion and mannered inquiry were desirable.

St. Abelard's had many documents which the Vatican desired to own. But the monks of Erintara declined to transfer, wholesale, their Latin facsimiles or rare books to RomaNova. They preferred to operate an information service which was independent of Rome. Now, the Papacy's influence was spread across such a vast area of the universe that it was considerably weakened by the attenuation inherent in such a galactographic reality.

In effect, RomaNova and Erintara operated competing archival services. Because the Vatican had the force of canon law on its side, its old archives were growing well beyond those at St. Abelard's. Rome was slowly regaining, from various sources, the older documents it had lost on Earth. Abbot Hugh was well aware that his monastery was becoming obsolescent in the competition for documentary supremacy. He saw Brother Malachy as an agent of the Other Archives, and thus as a necessary evil foisted upon him by the Holy See. He was prepared to ignore any recommendation that Malachy might make for the transfer of his archives to RomaNova.

"Nonvolatile storage, yes. For reasons of security, each facsimile file is preserved in a separate and distinct storage container. We call these "volumeni," even though they aren't actually scrolls. They're fiberplaz cartridges stored within an underground vault."

"So you've had to reload them individually into your rapid-access memory since the first Blackout?... A laborious task, I imagine?"

"Just so. But we haven't attempted to reload thousands of document files all at once. We'll just have to do that as they're requested. After the first Blackout wiped our Memoria Ingens, as we term it, we did reload several hundred frequently-requested documents. Then, the second Blackout occurred, and all our restoration work was for nought. It's very frustrating to operate our Latinium while fearing yet another power `incident.'"

"What exactly happened during the Blackouts?"

"At night, after the Latinium was closed---and during two storms--- the power failed. For some unknown reason, the standby power failed to come online and take up the load. By the morning, the memory arrays were completely empty of data. Our "uninterruptable" backup system of power cells functioned. But it was, of course, drained after an hour or so of continuous load-carrying."

"Do you have a power-failure alarm?" The Inquisitor pointed to the Abbot's decorative candleholder. "You have no electric lamps outside the Latinium to go out and, thus, inform you of a general outage."

"We've installed one," said the Abbot, hastily. "At St. Abelard's, we seek to respect not only the technological marvels of our age but the glories of the past by keeping most of our house on the low-tech, medieval-Terran model."

"Did you thoroughly diagnose your standby power system?"

"Of course. Neither the Brother-in-Charge, nor the Tech Prior could explain why the standby power system failed to function. Test startups after both Blackouts were successful. I can only assume we have a saboteur active in our house."

The Abbot fingered his large Celtic crucifix, the obvious symbol of his position and rank. The Inquisitor stroked his neat beard and prepared to ask a pointed question.

"Do you suspect anyone in particular of rigging the standby power system to fail?"

The Abbot's expression was one of weariness. "Only Brother Jude knows the equipment well. Only he maintains it. He's an obedient Brother with a good record, but..."

"Yes...?"

"He hates Latin, I'm sorry to say." The Abbot seemed embarrassed. He disliked to have to admit this to the Inquisitor from Rome, but it could not be avoided. Malachy would discover this for himself, sooner or later.

The visitor's eyes widened. "You don't say?"

"Yes, I'm afraid so. He's an exception, of course. Prior Odilo informed me of Brother Jude's attitude toward our sacred tongue. The Prior has his informants, and they all report this attitude." He added, by way of explanation, "Brother Jude is not an academic sort of fellow. His intelligence is of the `mechanical' kind. Latin has been a difficult barrier for him to overcome."

The Abbot desired to assure the Inquisitor that this derogatory personal information was not supplied by Brother Jude's confessor. To do this, he had to admit to the monastery's system of informers, a system maintained with a grim determination by the Claustral Prior, even in the face of the liberal monastic verities of St. Abelard's.

"Thank you for your frankness, Your Grace. I'll concentrate my efforts on Brother Jude, since he's your prime suspect. I'd like to begin by touring your abbey to obtain for myself the larger picture, here."

This was what the Abbot dreaded. Only God knew what Brother Malachy might discover and include in his report. Documents in the Latinium recorded his skill as a velvet-glove Inquisitor.

"As you wish. I've issued a request for all to cooperate with your investigation. We must find the cause for this sabotage of our holy mission. You will of course devote the core of your efforts to this immediate problem, I trust?"

The Inquisitor hastened to assure the Abbot of his benign intent. "I shall. The Holy Father is quite concerned about the recurrent failure of your information service. May I have a guide from among your Brothers, someone who knows the relevant areas of St. Abelard's ---and whom I prefer to observe closely for a time?"

"You mean Brother Jude?"

"Yes. The chief suspect, himself."

"He's yours. But we may, briefly, need him to repair something. Hereabouts, he's known as Brother Fixit." The Abbot smiled.

 

Iter Monasteribus

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And so, to the Casa Turbina, the presumed scene of the crime, we proceeded, I and Brother Jude. I found the talented but suspect Brother to be a youthful but mature monk who knew his duties, and who performed them with a good sense of appropriateness. He was, as the Abbot said, not an intellectual. He seemed, however, a person of admirable mechanical intelligence. He seemed anxious to absolve himself from any blame for the Blackouts, and was quite determined that another one not occur.

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Brother Jude seemed somewhat morose at his task of conducting the Inquisitor about the monastery. He knew that he was the prime suspect in the sabotage of the standby power system. The Claustral Prior now watched him like a hawk, and when Odilo was at his other duties, he had his informers on the job.

"What's that small building over there?" inquired Malachy, as they toured the monastery. "It looks like one of those ancient Irish stone oratories.

"That's the Oscularium. It has a piece of the Blarney Stone."

"Blarney?... Oh yes, I remember. Some Irish took pieces of the fabled stone with them when they left the Emerald Isle for the outerworlds. After Ulster irregulars mischievously demolished it, that is.... `The Oscularium.' Cute name: the Kissery."

"Some people come here just to smooch our rock. Do you want to..."

"Not now, thanks. Maybe later."

They headed for the Casa Turbina.

Inside it, Jude showed Malachy the sensing relay that activated the standby power system. He opened the box which contained it, and pointed out its components.

"Hmmmmm... It seems a simple thing to accomplish. An insulating shim placed across the starter contacts at the bottom of the relay would prevent turbine startup.... Wouldn't you say so, Brother Jude?"

"Yes. But there wasn't any shim in the relay. I checked it right after the Blackouts. The relay armature had been reset. I tested it, and it worked okay."

"That's the problem, then: interrupting the turbine starter circuit before the outage, but removing the means of doing so before an inspection of the equipment is made.... Let me ask you this: who, besides yourself, has a key to the Casa Turbina?" Malachy tried to make this question sound nonaccusatory.

"The Tech Prior has one. He has all the keys and passwords to our high-tech equipment. And the circatores carry master keys that fit the lock on this door---when they're awake." Jude had a low opinion of the monastery's night watchmen. He blamed them for not being near the Casa Turbina when the Blackouts occurred so they could catch the saboteur.

"I see." Malachy checked the door. There were no signs of forced entry. "Do you know anyone around here who can pick locks?"

"No. But a few of the Brothers have criminal records. Maybe they can do it." He seemed uncomfortable in diverting the Inquisitor's suspicions elsewhere to certain of his fellows. The reformed ex-cons at St. Abelard's were, in general, known to be more devoted to the monastic life than those who had begun their vocation youthfully as oblates.

Malachy returned to the subject of the equipment. "Have you ever tested the standby power system and had it fail to function?"

"It always works like a charm. I keep it in good shape."

"Well, then. Let's continue our tour. We'll save the Latinium for last." As he mentioned that place, he noticed a slight reaction in Brother Jude, one so subtle most would have missed it. Clearly, the monk found anything Latinate distasteful, and he probably didn't wish to enter the holy edifice of the Church's official language.

They left the Casa Turbina, and Brother Jude locked the door behind them. Malachy examined the ground around the door.

"Did you notice any footprints, other than yours, on the mornings of the Blackouts when you arrived to check the equipment?"

"I wasn't looking for any. I guess I should have been."

"Even the second time?"

"That time, Prior Odilo was with me, yelling in my ear about how I wasn't doing my job right. So I was distracted. I just wanted to find out why the standby system didn't work."

"I understand. Do me a favor and rake the ground around the Casa's entrance smooth, later today. That way, we may get some clues if another Blackout occurs while I'm here."

"Okay. But what's to stop someone from just erasing their footprints?"

"Nothing. But an erasure is, by itself, evidence." Malachy arched an eyebrow, knowingly. "Rake the ground in a complex pattern, which can't quickly be duplicated."

 

Monasterium Exemplaris

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St. Abelard's was not a traditional monastery, despite its appearance outside the Latinium. That is to say, a rather relaxed view was taken of the contemplative life there, and its environment seemed one of tolerance for honest fault. As the Abbot told me, his abbey operates in a dualtech mode: the Latinium and its power facilities are high tech. The rest of the place is deliberately low-tech, in a slavish imitation of medieval Terran monasteries. The monks lived as those at a dark ages Irish Columban house must have, but without that same ascetic discipline. No electric power was required for St. Abelard's candles. Yet, this ancient atmosphere has attracted a surprising number of applicants. There is actually a waiting list of them. I believe this to be a sign of our spiritually-deficient times.

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"Most impressive," exclaimed Brother Malachy. "A scholar's paradise."

The heavy door to the Latinium closed behind him. He and Brother Jude found themselves in a vestibule, facing a row of plaz panels. Behind these, like a radio studio, was the Reading Room. It was on a circular plan: a service core was circled by rings of carrels for readers. Typically monastic, these cubicles were open at the rear and top. In them, at display-desks, sat the scholars who were studying the Latinium's document facsimiles.

A sign pointed to a stairway leading up to staff rooms and to the Rare Books Library on the upper floor. This collection was smaller than the electronic one below, but very valuable. Unlike the Latinium's volatile memory arrays, the stacks holding the rare books seemed invulnerable to sabotage, even though most of those codices are written in the same Latin as the archival facsimiles.

"Yes," agreed Brother Jude, unenthusiastically. "Impressive."

From behind the circular counter at the service core which held the Latinium's nonintelligent supercomputer, the Tech Prior, Brother Maiol, took notice of the sudden visitors. He had the appearance of a scholar. He wore old-fashioned reading spectacles, which were perched precariously on his generous nose. His bushy eyebrows matched his head of thick, graying hair, which was parted in the middle and which gave him an owlish air of gravity.

Brother Maiol had been briefed by the Abbot about the Inquisitor from the Vatican. He left his display-station and hastened to the entrance of the Reading Room to greet Malachy. He passed the desk where a Security guard sat to check visitors. The guard stood in anticipation of the Inquisitor's entrance.

"Greetings, Inquisitor. Welcome to our Latinium." Without waiting for an answer, he added, "Please come this way. I've prepared a carrel for your exclusive use. Your reputation as a scholar precedes you." Maiol had "researched" Malachy for the Abbot.

"Thank you, Brother Maiol. I long to use your excellent facilities. My tourguide, Brother Jude, will accompany me."

Maiol peered over his spectacles at the monastery's factotum, that one who made no secret of his dislike of Latin. "Yes... As you wish, Brother." He intended to keep his eye on Jude while the young monk was in the monastery's sanctum sanctorum. The fellow was the chief suspect in the Blackouts.

Maiol waved the visitors past the smiling door guard and down the main aisle to a carrel located on that aisle, in the ring closest to the service core.

("He wishes to eavesdrop on us, I think.") concluded Malachy.

"I presume you're skilled in using these terminals, and in accessing archival catalogs and indexes, Brother. You'll find our software to be quite user-friendly. I'll leave you to your important work. There's another storm forecast for tonight. I'll have to check the backup power cells for the memory arrays."

"Oh?..." Malachy pondered this intelligence. "Have there been any storms since the two which resulted in power failures?"

"No. That's why I'm worried. We've reloaded several hundred files, again---just like last time. I don't want to lose them.... If you desire some assistance, don't hesitate to summon me."

Prior Maiol couldn't see how the Inquisitor would solve the mystery from a carrel in the Latinium, but he wasn't about to discourage him from any phase of his investigation. Maiol well knew that, as St. Abelard's chief technical Brother, he was a possible but quite illogical suspect in the two acts of sabotage.

"Thank you, Brother Prior," said Malachy as he settled into the light green carrel, a standard library/archives model. Maiol left to return to his nearby station in the service core. Brother Jude, feeling rather uncomfortable and out-of-place, stood behind Malachy.

"Is this your first time at a Latinium terminal, Brother Jude," the Inquisitor casually asked as he began tapping the keyboard. The terminals were configured to exclude voice control of their functions. The atmosphere in the Reading Room was intended to be one of quiet.

"I've been here before to help with the power maintenance, when they needed someone who knows what he's doing," Jude said, sourly. "But at least I didn't have to sweep their floors."

"I see." But Brother Malachy was becoming diverted by the Latinium's world of electronic documentation. He called up the system's retrieval statistics file to see which of the documents in the collection had been requested since the last Blackout and thus reloaded into the memory arrays.

"Hmmmm... Interesting..." he mused as he scanned the list of titles. Brother Jude rolled his eyes ceilingward. He was unimpressed with the hard-to-read documents held so lovingly within this windowless edifice. Although bored, he did take some pleasure in the fact that he would not have to shovel any horse manure while the Vatican's Inquisitor was here.

"I see that the complete works of the Venerable Bede have been reloaded. _De natura rerum_ is a particular favorite of mine. The Venerable had a keen sense for the natural sciences---most untypical for his time and place.... His _Historia ecclesiastica gentis anglorum_ is a truly magnificent work of historiography. So much more scholarly than Julius Caesar's self-promoting work on the Gallic Wars."

"Yes," agreed Jude, with tight lips. "Much better." This mimicked comment evoked a secret smile from Brother Malachy.

"Ah... Here's another work I like: _Liber monstrorum de diversus generalibus_. It's a bestiary straight from St. Abelard's medieval Irish tradition." Malachy called up the document and began paging through it. He oohed and aahed at the colorful illustrations.

"What's that?" asked Jude, pointing at the screen.

They stared at the unusual animal on the page. "It's a unicorn. Basically, a horse with a horn---a `rhinequus,' one might say. It's quite imaginary, of course, but many believed in them, way back then."

"I wouldn't want to take care of a horse with a horn. Some of those nags can be pretty ornery. One of ours bit me and almost kicked me right through the wall, too."

"You didn't try to clean his stall while he was still in it?"

"The conestabulus just told me to muck it out. I didn't know anything about horses. I was a green city kid."

"Well, well..." Malachy had returned his attention to the reload list.

"What?..."

"They have a copy of Abelard's apologia, the _Historia calamitatum_. It's vital to an understanding of his life and work. I wondered if it would be in your collection."

Brother Jude wrinkled his brow at the document's title. "Why not?"

"_The Story of My Misfortunes_ doesn't exactly paint him in a very good light. Your saint was quite a controversial fellow, to put it mildly. He was considered a great sinner and an outright heretic by many of his contemporaries. But after his `calamities,' he recanted his errors and lived out his final years in a quiet and praiseworthy lifestyle in the fraternal embrace of the monks of Cluny."

Brother Jude and his fellow monks at St. Abelard's were well aware of Peter Abelard's controversial life. His affair with Heloise was often sniggered at by the monastery's postulants, especially those who secretly desired, but had been denied, a similar enlightening experience.

Brother Malachy pushed back his chair and stood before the display screen for a moment. Then, he turned to Brother Jude.

"Perhaps our saboteur is someone who doesn't accept Abelard as an appropriate inspiration for this house. Have you ever heard any such sentiment voiced by any of your fellows, Brother?"

"They tell jokes about him. But nobody cares very much what he did. It was too long ago. Besides, he was rehabilitated and canonized."

"Yes... I wonder what miracles were attributed to your St. Abelard? I'll have to do some research after I solve this case," he said with sublime self-confidence. The two left the carrel and walked up the aisle to the exit of the Reading Room. Malachy itched to examine the rare books, upstairs.

"The real miracle is he didn't die after they cut him," declared Jude, with undeniable logic.

 

Tempesta et Defectio

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My investigation of the events at St. Abelard's had barely begun when the Tech Prior's news of a storm forecast presented me with an opportunity I could not ignore. I retired to my assigned guest cell and napped until night was well nigh. I planned to take up a vigil in view of the Casa Turbina to see if it would be entered during the oncoming storm. I quietly obtained a raincape for that very purpose. I told only the Abbot of my plans. He approved of my tactic.

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When the rain began, it accentuated the chill of night. Brother Malachy shivered under his borrowed raincape as he stood within a narrow corridor between two outbuildings. A foul odor added to his discomfort. Garbage was stored there, out of sight, until it could be added to the monastery's compost piles.

He waited and watched the entrance of the Casa Turbina. At his prompting, the Abbot had ordered the circatores to avoid this part of the monastery in their rounds. They had gladly taken to their watchroom, where they played cards and exchanged ancient monkish riddles, such as "What separates an Irishman from a fool?" ("Only the table.")

Malachy had his borrowed flashlight, but fortunately for him, the flashes of lightning were now frequent enough for him to view his target. Rain was falling, soaking the luxuriant grass and the meticulously-laid graveled paths. It was past Compline. Most of the monks would be in their cells until morning. The Offices of Matins and Lauds, during nighttime, were optional at St. Abelard's, and few of the monks chose to attend them.

"O tempora, o mores," whispered Malachy. "These monks don't realize how easy they have it, here. We're still doing the Hard Eight back on RomaNova." He thus referred to the eight medieval Offices, at which the hours of prayer and verse were chanted, as specified by St. Benedict in his Rule written long ago at Monte Cassino.

Three close-spaced, blue-white lightning flashes suddenly revealed an oncoming figure splashing through the rain. It was a monk, his face hidden in the shadows of his raised cowl.

The intruder looked around, then turned toward the Inquisitor's watchplace in the garbage-filled corridor!

Malachy jumped backward and ducked down behind the garbage cans.

The intruder entered and took up Malachy's station. He stood there, watching the Casa Turbina like a hawk. Over the approaching sound of thunder, Malachy could hear the fellow mumbling to himself. He smiled and arose from his fatiguing crouch behind the cans.

"Trying to catch someone, Brother Jude?... Or deciding whether to enter the Casa Turbina, yourself?"

The monk jumped, whirled, and revealed himself to Malachy. He was, indeed, the Inquisitor's recent tourguide.

"Brother Malachy! What're you doing here?!"

Malachy smirked. "Guess, Brother."

"You're trying to catch the saboteur. But it's not me!" His voice sounded shrill among the spattering raindrops.

"Shhhhhhh," hissed Malachy. "I know it's not you. Keep quiet, or we'll miss seeing who it is." He moved up to join the youthful factotum at his vigil.

"You believe I'm innocent, then?"

"We'll see, Brother." Despite this development, Malachy remained uncommitted. "If nobody else shows up, though, you'll have some explaining to do to the Abbot."

Jude reconsidered himself a fool for coming out in this storm in a quixotic quest to clear his name.

Together, in the cold rain, they waited. But not for long.

*   *   *

"Someone's coming!"

The two monks stared through the heavy rain. The lightning flashes revealed another approaching, cowled monk.... Who might it be?

"Do you recognize him?" asked Malachy.

"I can't tell for sure, but he's heading for the Casa!" Jude could scarcely contain his excitement and satisfaction. He was off the hook, now. This newcomer had to be the guilty party.

"So he is. We may have our saboteur under observation. Frankly, I'm surprised that anyone would dare to repeat the crime so soon after the first two Blackouts---and given the presence here of a Vatican Inquisitor." Malachy had overestimated his deterrent effect. The saboteur was a determined individual

"He stole a key!" The dark figure under the raincape was unlocking the door to the Casa.

"Shhhhh. Let him enter. We'll follow him and catch him in the act."

"I wish I had a nice heavy spanner," avered Brother Jude.

"Steady on, Brother. We'll just have to rely on shaming him." Jude snorted at this idealistic remark.

The door to the Casa Turbina closed.

*   *   *

"Open it. Quickly."

Jude used his key. He unlocked and pushed open the door. The two monks rushed inside, Malachy leading and shining his flashlight around the machine room.

"Where is he?" asked Jude. "He's hiding somewhere."

Malachy spoke up, bravely. "We know you're in here! Show yourself in the name of the Holy See, and be accountable for your actions!"

Jude turned on the room lights.

The Claustral Prior arose from behind the generator, where he'd been hiding. He squinted and scowled in the bright illumination. He chose a belligerent response to defend his presence in the Casa Turbina.

"I was trying to catch the saboteur, redhanded. And I believe I might have if you hadn't interfered, Brother Malachy."

The two intruders gaped at Prior Odilo. Surely he couldn't be the saboteur. But Malachy had seen stranger monastic villany.

"You've made a mistake by having that Brother with you, Inquisitor. He'll never sabotage the power while you have him in your view."

"I'm not the satoteur!... Father." Jude was greatly annoyed at the Prior's attempt to shift suspicion onto him. "It was *you* we caught in here on a stormy night---not me."

"That's true, Brother Jude," said Malachy. "But remember, I caught you too, earlier tonight."

In the pale light of the flashlight, Prior Odilo curled his lips into a sneer. "Oh, ho. Let me guess: Brother Jude told you he was trying to catch the saboteur, himself---right? And you believed him."

"He told me the same thing you just told me, Father Prior."

"Who do you believe then, a responsible administrator of this abbey, or a simple-minded young fellow who hates Latin?"

Jude clenched his fists. "I don't hate..."

The room lights went out.

The power had failed. But there was only silence. The three monks stood as if secured to the floor, waiting for the turbine to start up. It didn't.

Malachy re-illuminated the Prior with his flashlight.

"I had nothing to do with this!" he shouted in outraged innocence. "I was only here for a few seconds before you two burst in!"

Malachy moved the spot of light across the control panel to the sensing-relay box.

"Then, I believe we've found our saboteur, after all."

 

Explicatio Mechanico

--------------------------

Later, I was glad that this case was resolved so quickly. If I had spent more time at St. Abelard's Monastery, I would have engendered bad feelings among the principals of the mystery, as each sought to absolve himself from guilt by blaming others. I have been in these situations before, and they can be difficult to handle. Fortunately, the true explanation for the standby power failures absolved everyone of blame... almost.

--------------------------

"You mean to tell me all this trouble was caused by a _diabolus in machinam_?" The Abbot rebuked himself for not allowing for so simple an explanation.

"Yes, Your Grace. The standby power system's sensing relay was indeed possessed by the Evil One."

"Then why wasn't that revealed when Brother Jude made his weekly tests?" asked Prior Odilo, who was still smarting from having been discovered in the Casa Turbina. He, Brother Malachy, and the Abbot were sitting in the Abbot's study that very night. Brother Jude was in the Cubiculum, enjoying the sleep of the innocent.

"Here's why," Malachy explained, patiently. "The factory-applied lubricant in the channel for the sensing relay's armature has mostly evaporated. The armature no longer drops smoothly and reliably down to the turbine starter contacts when the power fails. When Brother Jude pushes the TEST button, it clicks so forcefully in its detent that it vibrates the relay box just enough to shake loose the armature. That's why the relay seems to be functioning properly. But when the power actually fails, nothing `mechanical' occurs to shake loose the armature. It's released by its solenoid, but hangs, and the turbine starter's battery circuit isn't energized.... No turbine---no power.... There never was a saboteur."

"But Brother Jude is actually at fault. He should have kept that relay well-lubricated," accused the Prior.

Malachy shrugged his shoulders. "The Brother didn't realize he had to, Father Prior. He's going take care of it tomorrow. He knows now that, otherwise, he'll have to trudge outside to the Casa Turbina during every storm to remain alert for a power outage."

The Abbot looked sad. "This is something St. Columba didn't have to contend with. Life is so much more complex, these days."

The Prior, who coveted the Abbot's position, pursed his lips in silent disapproval. Malachy had a suggestion.

"May I propose that you make things simpler by purchasing an all-electronic power monitor? It'll be much more reliable at detecting mainline outages, and at starting up the standby system."

"Yes. We'll do that. Thank you for your efforts, Brother Malachy. We're most grateful." The Abbot now desired for the Inquisitor to return to RomaNova without further ado. This was obvious to Malachy, who would have preferred to spend some more time reading in the Latinium.

"It's been my pleasure, Your Grace. Now, with your permission, I'll retire. It's been a difficult night."

He glanced at Prior Odilo.

"A most difficult night."

 

--------------------------

Thus concluded, successfully, the matter of the power failures at the Latinium of St. Abelard's Monastery. Their precious Latin facsimiles should now be safe and rapidly-accessible to eager scholars.

Given unto this day, Idus Iulius, 2176 A.D.

/signed/ Malachy of RomaNova, O. B.

 

--------------------------

Addendum Privatum

I confess that I received scant credit from my superiors for solving the mystery at St. Abelard's Monastery. Monsignor Tancredi told me that any competent electrician could have solved the problem, and that the funds spent to send me there could have been used for more important purposes. I did not controvert my superior in that regard. But I found myself cynically imagining that my trip to green Erintara might have been justified had I been able to report several murders among the monks there, rather than simply the presence of the Devil in a machine.... Oh, well... May God have mercy on all who seek the truth---or merely strive to maintain a technological status quo.*

 

Story copyright ©1999 by Frederick Rustam <frustam@capacess.org>

Artwork "The Monk" copyright © 1999 by Kalazar <kalazar@earthlink.net>

 

 

--------------------------

 

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