Against the Current

Garreth picked up the metal pipe that had fallen from his overloaded leather bag and kept going. He was late with his meeting before the Thinkers. He hoped that he would be able to join their ranks should they accept his invention. It had been a dream of his since he was a boy. To be a Thinker meant he would be given access to all resources to improve the city. He could travel to nearby cities as well and be given the same treatment.

He stumbled through the door to the massive Citadel in the center of the city. It was the largest building ever made, and it consisted of an amalgam of precious metals, solid stones, mixtures that dried harder than even marble, and other mysterious substances that held the structure together in certain areas. Many of which had been lost to time. Garreth believed some of the formulas still lay within the vaults of the structure. Locked up where only a Thinker could gain access.

His mind wandered at the thought of all the knowledge stored beneath his feet. His absent stride echoed through empty halls. A figure burst forth from a room further down corridor and his attention returned to the present. He eyed the figure as he approached and realized it was woman. She had stopped in the middle of walkway with her head held low as the door slowly closed behind her. Before he was close enough to ask her a question, she huffed and threw the object in her hands against the stone wall and stormed off. Garreth remained silent as she raged by. She gave him no mind at all while he observed how her black hair fluttered about her face as she took forceful steps. He even caught the soft green scattered within her otherwise brown iris.

He watched her exit. A sudden sadness came over him. One that made him wish he had spoken to her, but the thought was fleeting. He had come to join the Thinkers and that decision was soon to be made. He approached the door she had left behind. He reached for the handle and was stopped by the sight before him. The object she had thrown. It looked like fabric stretched taught between wooden rods. He found he could only guess as to the purpose of it.

Muffled voices penetrated the large wooden door. Garreth had cracked it open without noticing. Through the slit he heard the Thinkers arguing about the woman.

“The device could be useful,” a high-pitch voice said.

“It doesn’t matter how useful it is,” a deep voice boomed, “no woman will ever be a Thinker. It’s unheard of. No text has ever hinted at such a thing being the case and there must be a reason for it. We must maintain the integrity of our forebears.”

The murmuring of small conversation ensued until a composed voice rose above it. “Perhaps we should investigate the nature of Howell’s argument. If research should show even one idea within the archives was founded by a woman, we will admit Cassandra within our ranks.”

“But even then…” the deep voice sounded, then trailed away.

“You may come in now,” the composed voice called out.

Garreth knew he was the recipient of the command and entered the hall. It was a large atrium filled only with a tall, semi-circle dais and a small platform of stone one foot from the ground. Garreth came forward and stepped onto the platform. He looked up at the Thinkers, all wearing the robes of their rank, and they looked down upon him.

“You wish to become a Thinker?” The composed voice said. It came from the man seated directly in front of him. He was older and wore the signature medallion on his left breast signifying him as the Primary. The head of all Thinkers.

“I do,” Garreth managed.

“Come, show us what you have there,” the Primary requested.

Garreth pulled the pipes from his bag and began assembling them. He began his presentation as he fitted the first few together.

“This model will show you how I believe it is possible to harness the river north to provide water throughout the city.”

“Harness the river? How?” The deep voice called. Garreth noted the man immediately. He was toward his right. A larger man with a mustache which still contains remnants of the man’s breakfast.

“Here,” Garreth said, pointing to the open pipe at the top of his contraption, “is where it begins. We build this structure at the beginning of the waterfall north of the city. The water flows into the pipe where is can be diverted to various spots around the city.” He pointed to several points along his matrix. “Where the water can be stored in containers for regular use.”

“The river would be fully diverted? This would prevent water from reaching the irrigation channels further south.” It was the higher pitched voice. Garreth registered the man. Young, thin frame with large eyes. A genial look on his face that Garreth believed to be both an eagerness to learn despite a deep well of knowledge.

“The water,” he lifted a jug and poured it slowly into the open pipe at the top of his contraption, “would be diverted through the city, past the collection points, and guided back to the riverbed before it reaches the channels, therefore it would not disrupt the food supplies.” The water exited the web of pipes into the collection pan he had set at the base.

“Impressive,” the high-pitch voice said.

“What would this structure consist of?” the mustachioed man asked.

“Marble.”

“Why?” the Primary followed.

“To prevent contamination. The water would be river water, but if the materials were metal or a baser stone, then we would risk particles being released into the water that could be harmful even when boiled.”

“You’ve tested materials?”

“Yes. Marble proves the best suited for this project.”

“It would take years to complete such an undertaking.” This came from the fat mustache.

“Perhaps too long,” the Primary said.

“No longer than it took to build the bath houses,” Garreth said. He meant it as fact only but could see from the look of the bigger man that offense was taken.

“You know the intricacies of masonry?” the deep voice boomed.

“Not all.”

“Then do not falsely claim to know deeply of things you have only seen in passing.”

“I made no such claim.”

The bigger man rose from his seat on the dais to grow a few feet more above Garreth.

“You dare to-”

“Calm yourself Baron,” the Primary called, “You do not act your station at the moment.”

The mustache rumbled as Baron let out a huff at the Primary’s words and returned to his seat.

“Garreth, is it?” The Primary asked.

“Yes sir.”

“You have brought an interesting proposal before us. We thank you for this. We shall deliberate upon it and make our decision momentarily. We ask that you wait outside the Citadel for our response.”

Garreth thanked each of them and gathered his contraption. He wandered outside before stopping to properly dismantle the remainder of his model. He slipped a pipe into the bag. The clink of metal on metal was followed by a woman’s voice.

“You want to become one of those idiots?”

Garreth turned to see the girl from earlier. Her cheeks slightly flushed from recent tears. The name he overheard flashed across his mind. Cassandra.

“To become a Thinker is great honor. There is much to learn in the Citadel.” He looked up at the large doors he had just left. Cassandra followed his gaze.

“You are right. Too bad it’s all a farce.”

“How do you mean?” He asked it despite knowing she was telling a truth she did not fully understand.

“They are all old men. Too tied up in traditions to live up to the reputations created by those before them. I’d say the Citadel lost its ingenuity a few centuries ago.” She sighed.

“What was it?” Garreth asked impulsively.

“What was what?”

“The thing you left behind.”

“Ha,” she huffed, “It was a device that would let us harness the wind. Turn it into a mechanical force.”

“Really?” He stepped closer to her eager to hear more about it.

“Doesn’t matter now,” she said, “It’s impossible to build anything new without the Thinkers money. It wasn’t even hard to build.”

“Could you show me?”

She stared at him. Slowly the suspicion faded from her eyes as she realized he still held the spark of curiosity. She picked up a piece of straw from the street and began drawing in a patch of dirt at the base of the Citadel wall. She explained the intricacies simply and Garreth found himself inspired. He couldn’t fathom how she hadn’t been granted the robes of a Thinker. Then he remembered the discussion he overheard before his own presentation.

“This is fascinating.” He meant it, and she must have accepted his words honestly because she smiled. “As you said, this wouldn’t be hard to construct. Have you considered building it yourself?”

“Even if I had the money, only Thinkers get permits in the city.”

“What if you built it outside the city?”

She looked at him as if he had asked her to build it beyond the stars. The doors opened behind them and a courier presented Garreth with scroll. The Thinkers seal was pressed into the wax. Inside would be their decision. He held in his hand the answer to his future.

“Have fun being a Thinker,” Cassandra said as she got up. She smiled at him and walked away.

He watched her walking away, then turned his attention to the scroll, then down to the drawing in the dirt. He shoved the scroll into his pack without breaking the seal and ran after her.

“Wait,” he called as he caught up to her.

“What? You want to gloat?”

“I know of a town about a day to the east that could really benefit from your idea.”

A dubious look filled her features.

“I’m serious. You could really improve their lives out there. Isn’t that why you wanted to be a Thinker? To help others?”

“Don’t you have business in the Citadel?”

He shrugged. “It can wait. I’d hate to see your idea lost. It’s a Thinker’s responsibility to preserve ideas. To help those with the spark flourish.”

“You think I have the spark?” she asked with an incredulous tone.

“I know you do, and I know this world can’t afford to lose it.” He smiled in an attempt to convince her.

A moment passed before her own smile spread across her cheeks. “Where is this town?”

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