The world is in chaos: war, plague, global ecological collapse. Parents everywhere seek sanctuary for their precious children, the future of mankind. For those who are rich and powerful enough, safety can be found—for a price—at the Clothos Academy. Run by a mysterious man known only as Sarge, set in a former monastery atop a sheer cliff on a tiny island somewhere in the Mediterranean, Clothos will admit only one hundred students before it is sealed off—perhaps permanently—from the terrors outside.
But all is not as it seems. The pupils are so-called starlets best known for their empty heads and eating disorders; troublemakers one step away from incarceration; and junior royals too embarrassing to be let out in public. And the staff isn't much better, from the alcoholic doctor to an ancient monk with secrets of his own.
And the dangers from which these castaways are being protected? Prerecorded, ready to be trotted out whenever Sarge needs to terrify his little flock. And yet…
Some dangers are real, as two boys discover when they hack the Academy's self-contained computer network and connect, for a brief but disastrous moment, to the outside world. Worse, a stranger has entered the Academy. And he has brought Death.
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By Kit Reed
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2009 Kit Reed
All rights reserved.
Departure Day. It's almost time. Gangplank up, repel all boarders. Destination: the last safe place.
See them come streaming down the hill, running ahead of end times. At the dock, my boat bobs up and down in rough waters as adults on rafts and in launches try to make it through the steel nets protecting the harbor — anything to get their children aboard. The world behind them is going to hell and there's only one boat leaving for Mount Clothos. Mine.
I do what I have to. Correction: I do what I want. I was stalled on the road to nowhere when the whirlwind struck and something spoke to me. It blew in out of nowhere and knocked me flat. Truth sat on my chest and made me listen. When I got up, I knew.
The world is diseased, and the carrier? Society.
How do you fight a deadly plague?
Isolate the patients. Protect the young. Your kids are infected; you know it and you came to me. Think of the Academy as protective quarantine. Face it, you'd pay anything to get them off the scene. You want them in a place where nothing can touch them, no coke dealers and no paparazzi, no suicide bombers, police raids, no freak attacks of nature, no wars.
Correction: you want them stashed someplace where they can't hurt you and they won't embarrass you. On Mount Clothos, behind dense stone walls.
Why not? You can afford it. Here at the top of the world they are protected, far from bad influences, opportunists, skeezy friends. When the seas turn red and the sky goes black they will be protected.
Like the installation, your children have been secured.
You bitched about the cost when you delivered them but I know what you were thinking when you handed them off. Cheap at the price, and if you don't understand it, good riddance and fuck you.
They, not you, are the issue here. Your failures are my children now. I have my marching orders.
They come from a higher power. When the voice in the whirlwind spoke I was in country, which our troops have been in a few too many of lately — pointless wars in barren terrain. Where I was, the fighting never ends. Yeah, they told us going in that the war would last about ten minutes. Sure it would. They have to tell you something.
Things happened that you don't need to know about. I did things. People died, but that's not the worst of what we did.
Yes I'm ashamed. It was not pretty. Unlike the others, I survived. As I walked out of the firestorm it came to me — OK, like a shout from something huge, and tremendously pissed off. Marching orders for the rest of my life.
You will make up for what you did here.
When I got up I was spitting tears and shrapnel and everything was different. I heard it loud and clear:
You will create a place where no evil comes.
Welcome to the Academy. I love this life, I hate it and sometimes I'm afraid of it but I do it. Don't ask. There's no way I can explain. I do it because I do it because I do it, so whatever you paid to make this happen, whatever your misgivings, know this:
I keep the children safe.
Nothing that drops from the skies or shoots out of the earth can touch us on Mount Clothos. We are impregnable. The air space has been secured; if I tell you how, I'll have to kill you. I have military training, your guarantee that I know exactly what to do and how to do it. Whatever goes on outside, whatever comes out of the skies, they are protected.
I will preserve them and in the process I will improve them, so you can rest your heart. Think of us as your last line of defense. The line in the sand between your out-of-control children and the horrors and corruption outside.
We know society is hell, but kids don't see it. How could they, they're only kids! Look at them — beautiful and brainless, unwitting victims of things as they are. For your progeny, rolling into the Academy like loose cannons, the sealed environment is the perfect solution. No way on. No way off. Only one way up the mountain, egress secured. You can relax; your problems are my problem now.
Safe inside my citadel. Worth every million you pay.
God knows you've already spent billions, paying their way out of the drug busts, buying back blurred screen shots of crystal meth infusions and split beavers, greasing palms to diffuse the fallout from all those DWIs and public meltdowns, the in-and-out-of-rehab videos. Then there are those things you can't buy your way out of: tabloid speculation about exactly how far along your treasure is on the road to paparazzi-rehab-reckless-endangerment hell. To say nothing of blogs in which they revile you and the evil spawn of hidden Webcams streaming video of your heirs' excesses live, 24/7. Other aberrations that we won't mention here, compounded by the pressure of multimedia exposure, worldwide.
It isn't just terrorism or war or global warming that scares you. Your kids are out of control and face it, younger and younger kids are melting down. Whether or not the world ends tomorrow, admit it. You want your little psychic train wrecks taken care of. Well, lay down your burden. Think of your problems as contained.
Nobody gets into the compound without my OK. Nothing does. Our walls are impenetrable. The monks built their cloister on a crag so high that nothing could get in and nobody would bother them in those dark, Dark Ages. The stone walls and lead window-frames deflect even the strongest signal — all built in the fifth century. It's as if their God put a finger on the future and found it rotten to the core.
Perfect. Cell phones are useless here. Stand at the top of the bell tower and you still can't get a signal.
Better: the Academy computers are networked but not connected, thus protecting the integrity of my server. Clever, right? Think of it as a security measure; we wouldn't allow typhoid carriers in here. Why let the sick world inside? There are viruses out there fierce enough to bring down a rhinoceros. Leave it to some fool kid to click on the wrong thing and infect us all.
This also protects them from social contagion. They can forget their iChat and IM and online computer shooter games that waste time and eat the mind. Their MySpace and Facebook pages are gathering dust. They won't be browsing porn sites or hooking up in online sex rooms, either. There will be no seductive messages kited in from outside to infect their hearts, no filthy porn slideshow/videos/Internet propositions for you, kid, and no shopping online — like, what genius can deliver a package to the top of a mountain nobody can find? No sleazy downloads, we'll ream that junk right out of your heads.
Zero access eases the transition and, frankly, it prevents collusion. If they want to communicate they can damn well talk.
Think of your late-adolescent problems as cadets in the corps of life, scrubbed and neatly uniformed, pristine. Clean slates for the Academy to write on.
In addition to meeting life unplugged they live without TV, but we do show weekend movies in the common room; by the time we run through the thousand DVDs in my collection, I'll be done here. The news our charges get from the outside world is the news I give them. We show footage nightly in the Refectory to keep them on their toes. They need to see how bad it is out there, so they'll thank whatever gods they have that they are safe, so trust me.
Inside these walls even the craziest of your kids will shape up, cut off from the infected world. My hand-picked staff is here to see to that, special thanks to Steve Joannides, my tech guy, who made all this possible, and my registered physician's assistant, Cassie Rivard, who took a leap of faith to join us because more than anybody here, she believes in the enterprise. OK, she believes in me, and I ...
She's everything. I just haven't told her yet.
With the world outside going to fuck and conflagration, I have this to do. I protect the kids. I will make them who they ought to be.
Never mind who I was before. Now I am this.
Someone named me after the famous painter, but the kids call me Sarge. That works. In fact, it is appropriate. I was a Marine. I came up through the ranks and the Corps was good to me. I enlisted, like any other boot. Rose to drill sergeant. NCO. I served in a couple of our shitty wars — who didn't. Led a platoon in country on my first tour, got selected for OCS.
When I shipped out on my second tour I was a line officer, a lieutenant, that's LT Sargent Whitemore, USMC. We landed on the Fertile Crescent like the first Ping-Pong ball in a grade-school nuclear reactor simulation; wars popped up everywhere, flying every whichway, out of control. I came home from that one a Major. I hate war but I loved the Corps.
It saved me. It taught me the protective power of control.
I started out wild, like the kids you're jonesing to get rid of. The military schools you in the uses of discipline. That's what keeps Marines going through fire and destruction, Semper Fi. Do things by the numbers and you can walk through shitstorms without blinking, fight hand-to-hand with tigers and come out smelling like a rose.
When it comes to discipline, I am a master.
It's what brought you begging.
That and security. In matters of personal safety, location is everything. Mount Clothos has defeated climbers for so many centuries that after a while, even pilgrims gave up and society forgot.
Nobody comes, and ...
In case you were worried about runaways, nobody goes.
This old ark warded off outsiders for two thousand years before I found it, and no wonder. It sits in bedrock on a peak so high that nothing grows. Unreachable, except by us. There are no beaches at the bottom of this mountain to draw tourists, no cutesy villages, just a mess of crags like a miniskirt on a giant dick.
There is only the peak.
You won't find us on any map. For reasons my IT guy Steve Joannides and I are not at liberty to explain, the coordinates dropped out of every known database. They will stay lost, thanks to Steve. It won't matter who comes looking or what applications they use to run the search. They'll never find us. And if push comes to shove and someone does show up, we are well fortified.
If anything or anybody living makes it, I have automated shoreline batteries up and running 24/7, heavy artillery sufficient to repel all boarders.
Nothing touches us.
It's central to what we're doing here.
Let the world blow itself to perdition if that's what that asshole in Washington wants, women and children first, no problem. Mine are safe. If something goes wrong in the sky or on the plateau we can always go deeper — the abbey on Clothos is a honeycomb. There are caverns below the ones we've occupied; only Benny knows how many or how far down they go. I could house hundreds in the undercroft alone, and that's exclusive of storage space. My Security people are quartered below, so your kids can go on thinking this is just another school.
The crypts are packed with supplies to keep us into the fourth millennium, and fresh water runs in underground springs. Old Brother Benedictus has every known fruit and vegetable growing year-round in the dome I built over his garden, and he ranches mushrooms in subcaverns, but he won't tell us where.
Never mind how he ended up on board — that's another story. Let's just say that in terms of service on Clothos, the old monk makes me look like a jarhead whose boot-camp buzz cut is still fuzz. Abandoned baby, brought up by monks. The old man is wise the way old souls are wise. He knows every crypt and chamber in the cloister and every subterranean cave, and if he wants to pray in his room instead of coming to our movie nights or showing up at morning assemblies? Fine.
Benny showed me things I didn't know about and told me things I had to know. Like how the monks melded safety and freedom, or the illusion of freedom. Tactics for a guy with a hundred kids to contain. And keep happy.
OK, not happy. Contented.
They have no choice.
The mountain is high, the water troubled. Some days the skies are black and on other days, water boils up red as blood in the ocean thousands of yards below. Nobody has to tell these kids that we are besieged by signs and wonders or that the old, decaying world is doomed. They can see it hanging in the air outside. Even the hardest cases must know.
Inside the Academy, they are safe.
BROTHER BENEDICTUS ISN'T REALLY A MONK, WHICH THAT nice Mr. Sargent doesn't need to know. Although Benny isn't really a monk, he looks like one. Slight, ascetic, with his remaining hair neatly shaped into a tonsure. He follows the Rule. He observes the Liturgy of the Hours. He does his job in the greenhouse, tending vegetables and picking leafy greens for Chef Pete's salads. He harvests mushrooms in the crypt for Pete's special lasagna, but it's understood that he will go to the former chapel at certain times even though there's nothing happening there.
It seems right to him.
His new boss is a stickler for order, so Mr. Sargent and the Hours are a good fit, which is just as well, Benny thinks, although what this means exactly, he is not certain.
Actually, Benny needs routine just as much as Sarge does, but for different reasons. It holds him up. Meanwhile the monastic progress of daily Lauds and Matins, Vespers and Compline fits nicely with Mr. Sargent's bells announcing class and mealtimes and the Order of the Day he posts on the bulletin board. Then there's the trumpet. At dawn and at bedtime the old halls ring so convincingly that Benny doesn't know to this day whether it's a real person out there playing, or Mr. Sargent's Victrola. Military airs, he supposes, but they don't sound warlike.
Mr. Sargent keeps Benedictus around like a sacred object. As if he's some kind of talisman, although he doesn't say that. He says having a monk on board adds the right measure of gravity to the Academy.
Benny doesn't have the heart to tell the boss that he isn't really a monk. He happened into the cloister by accident and inertia kept him here. He was abandoned — marooned on this earth — when disease picked off the monks one by one and Brother Sixtus, the last of the order on Clothos, blessed him and died. It was like losing his father. The Benedictines were the only family Benny ever knew.
By the time the Academy helicopter landed on Mount Clothos, the old man was wearing the habit Brother Sixtus left behind when his spirit flew off and left his body here. Benny put it on because by that time all his shirts had been scrubbed to tatters and both pairs of his old pants were out at the knees and the seat. Sarge doesn't have to know. The head of the Academy holds Brother Benedictus up as a shining example of the way things ought to be, and a hundred young people stand with heads bent and shoulders hunched resentfully, listening.
They don't have much choice.
"Guys," Sarge says before he reads off the Order of the Day after Roll Call but before breakfast, "If an old monk like Brother Benedictus here can keep to the schedule and do it without complaining, so can you." Then in case they don't get it, he adds, "It's the least you can do."
In fact, Benny is a civilian, which would disappoint Mr. Sargent if he knew.
It might compromise the old man's situation here, and this is the only situation he knows. Unlike the generations of monks who came before him, he didn't arrive as a prayerful youth begging to be admitted to the cloister. He's here because he had no choice.
He was two months old, give or take. Nobody's quite sure. He grew up here and he's just too old to start over, which is why he stays. Well, that and the impossibility of departure without a partner to man the basket relay the monks used to go up and down the mountain. To operate the basket relay he needs at least two men, and Brother Benedictus is the last.
The basket used to be the only way people came and went, but that's all changed. Benny's scared of the shiny new transit capsule hovering at the top of its chute. He can't leave in the capsule. If he tries, Mr. Sargent will find out before Benny can figure out how to enter the chute and get the thing open. The machinery terrifies him. Technology always has.
No surprise, given the boundaries of monastic life and the fact that it's the only life he's ever known.
Unlike postulants, grown men who forsake earthly things to enter monastic communities like this one, Benny got found.
On that particular day a young man lingered at the bottom of Mount Clothos because he had doubts. He thought he wanted to enter the order, but at the last minute he panicked, which Benny didn't find out until Brother Sixtus died. As he paid off the captain who ferried postulants here, the surf came up. He should have tugged on the rope to signal the monks, but at the last minute Sixtus thought about solitude in the cloister, the finality of the rock. There were women back home. There were other possible lives.
Excerpted from Enclave by Kit Reed. Copyright © 2009 Kit Reed. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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