An Oblique Approach by David Drake and Eric Flint

An Oblique Approach by David Drake and Eric Flint

An Oblique Approach by David Drake and Eric Flint

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.


The first facet was purpose.

It was the only facet. And because it was the only facet, purpose had neither meaning nor content. It simply was. Was. Nothing more.

purpose. Alone, and unknowing.

Yet, that thing which purpose would become had not come to be haphazardly. purpose, that first and isolated facet, had been drawn into existence by the nature of the man who squatted in the cave, staring at it.

Another man—almost any other man—would have gasped, or drawn back, or fled, or seized a futile weapon. Some men—some few rare men—would have tried to comprehend what they were seeing. But the man in the cave simply stared.

He did not try to comprehend purpose, for he despised comprehension. But it can be said that he considered what he was seeing; and considered it, moreover, with a focused concentration that was quite beyond the capacity of almost any other man in the world.

purpose had come to be, in that cave, at that time, because the man who sat there, considering purpose, had stripped himself, over long years, of everything except his own overriding, urgent, all-consuming sense of purpose.

* * *

His name was Michael of Macedonia. He was a Stylite monk, one of those holy men who pursued their faith through isolation and contemplation, perched atop pillars or nestled within caves.

Michael of Macedonia, fearless in the certainty of his faith, stretched forth a withered arm and laid a bony finger on purpose.

For purpose, the touch of the monk’s finger opened facet after facet after facet, in an explosive growth of crystalline knowledge which, had purpose truly been a self-illuminated jewel, would have blinded the man who touched it.

No sooner had Michael of Macedonia touched purpose than his body arched as if in agony, his mouth gaped open in a soundless scream, and his face bore the grimace of a gargoyle. A moment later, he collapsed.

For two full days, Michael lay unconscious in the cave. He breathed, and his heart beat, but his mind was lost in vision.

On the third day, Michael of Macedonia awoke. Instantly awoke. Alert, fully conscious, and not weak. (Or, at least, not weak in spirit. His body bore the weakness which comes from years of self-deprivation and ferocious austerities.)

Without hesitating, Michael reached out his hand and seized purpose. He feared yet another paroxysm, but his need to understand overrode his fear. And, in the event, his fear proved unfounded.

purpose, its raw power now refracted through many facets, was able to control its outburst. purpose, now, was also duration. And though the time which it found in the monk’s mind was utterly strange, it absorbed the confusion. For duration was now also diversity, and so purpose was able to parcel itself out, both in its sequence and its differentiation. Facets opened up, and spread, and doubled, and tripled, and multiplied, and multiplied again, and again, until they were like a crystalline torrent which bore the monk along like a chip of wood on a raging river.

The river reached the delta, and the delta melted into the sea, and all was still. purpose rested in the palm of Michael’s hand, shimmering like moonlight on water, and the monk returned that shimmer with a smile.

“I thank you,” he said, “for ending the years of my search. Though I cannot thank you for the end you have brought me.”

He closed his eyes for a moment, lost in thought. Then murmured: “I must seek counsel with my friend the bishop. If there is any man on earth who can guide me now, it will be Anthony.”

His eyes opened. He turned his head toward the entrance of the cave and glared at the bright Syrian day beyond.

“The Beast is upon us.”

That night, Belisarius was resting in the villa which he had purchased upon receiving command of the army at Daras. He was not there often, for he was a general who believed in staying with his troops. He had purchased the villa for the benefit of his wife Antonina, whom he had married two years before, that she might have a comfortable residence in the safety of Aleppo, yet still not be far from the Persian border where the general took his post.

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Categories: David Drake