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By Libby

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It's cold in here. My fingers are almost numb; but it won't be long now. I suppose there's an irony in ending my life in this God-forsaken place. Because that's what I feel He's done… forsaken me.

Grammaton Errol Partridge placed the precious book on his knees and rubbed his hands together briskly. His warm breath hung wraith-like in the frozen air. Partridge regarded the ghostly swirl with amused detachment.

Is this how my soul will leave this earth?

Despite his inevitable fate, which he supposed now glided purposefully through the curfew-silenced city towards the Nethers, Partridge felt strangely at peace. The burden of knowledge and concealment would finally be lifted from his shoulders and the danger of revelation eased.

Moonlight slitted nervously through the jagged panes of stained glass to hide behind the timeworn pews of what was once a magnificent cathedral. Now, small creatures were its only congregation, their eerie calls and furtive scrabblings its only choir. Partridge flicked his eyes down the jet-black topcoat. The further irony of a Grammaton Cleric awaiting his execution in a church was almost delicious.

The Cleric's eyes searched the shattered images of saints and martyrs, locked in perpetual adoration or suffering. One particular group of supplicants caused him to gasp as long-forgotten memories clamoured to be relived. Partridge was surprised how easily the scenes unfolded...

Strange how certain things remain so vivid one's memory, no matter how much time passes. To this day I will never be sure why I acted the way I did....

Sector 5: Residential area: many years previously...

'Good Morning, Clerics. The situation appears to be contained.'

The Sweeper captain was all respect and efficiency. His team was spread out around the dingy little building, rifles raised. Cleric Partridge moved briskly through the door towards a group of dishevelled offenders huddled on their knees in the dust. Just behind them lay several of their compatriots, sprawled messily in bright arterial blood which was creeping in a viscous stream towards his feet.

His deliberate backwards step caused the foremost of the offenders to tear his eyes away from the trail of sticky red liquid and fix them firmly on Partridge. The young man's expression was fathomless, as devoid of emotion and feelings as any Grammaton Cleric. The clear blue eyes were without a trace of fear. Partridge was slightly curious. As a matter of course, just the sight of the severe black uniforms instilled mind-numbing terror in those who had ceased their interval and were 'feeling'.

His partner neatly side stepped the congealing mass and continued on into a small courtyard, pistols cocked, leaving Partridge to oversee the prisoners as they were led to the wagon which would speed them to the Palace of Justice and their ultimate fiery demise.

Perhaps the Sweepers hadn't been sufficiently vigilant, but Partridge had barely reached the door when staccato bursts of gunfire, behind him, triggered an automatic and deeply ingrained response. He raced back down the hallway, leaped over the bodies and tucked into a roll, coming up into full Kata stance at the entrance to the stone-flagged courtyard. At some point he had drawn the twin signature pistols, but their use was rendered unnecessary by the swift and lethal actions of his partner, who now stood motionless, surrounded the bullet-ridden bodies of half-a-dozen offenders.

'A satisfactory outcome, Cleric,' Partridge commented, idly observing the look of surprise frozen on the greying faces of the dead offenders.

'Indeed,' his partner replied, as he replaced the still warm pistols snugly in their pocket holster.

Partridge turned on his heel to exit the courtyard. This raid was probably the last he would undertake with his current partner. He wondered if he would be required to supervise a new graduate...

His musings were cut short by a shout from the Sweeper team, followed by several shots. A number of the offenders had broken away from the group being loaded into the wagon and had bolted into the warren of small buildings and alleyways which typified this part of the Nethers. One was dead but two others had managed to evade the Sweepers.

Both Clerics scanned the immediate area and Partridge directed the Enforcement officers to execute a standard search and retrieve. Their failure to contain the prisoners would be dealt with on their return to the City. Partridge skirted around the rubble-strewn frontage to the side of the building – which had once been family residences – picking his way carefully through the debris. His keen eyes glinted with awareness and although his body seemed relaxed, a careful observer would notice the deliberate placing of his feet, the perfect balance…

An infinitesimal movement in his peripheral vision caused Partridge to spin, sidearm raised and ready. Clear blue eyes challenged him to fire and be damned. For what seemed like aeons, the two men faced each other. Partridge increased the pressure on the trigger...then abruptly lowered the pistol, never taking his eyes off the other man.

'Go,' he said, simply.

The blue eyes widened in surprise. However, the young man needed no further encouragement and fled down the alley. At the corner, he turned and nodded briefly towards the Cleric. Something deep within Partridge stirred. A long repressed memory of another pair of blue eyes, crinkling in laughter...

'Come on, bro, kick the damn ball!'

He shook his head as if to clear it of indecision, yet the enormity of his betrayal was inescapable.

On the journey back to the City, confusion vied with certainty in the Cleric's mind. A sideways glance towards his silent partner reassured Partridge that his action – or rather inaction - had gone unnoticed. Partridge knew that he was pretty much the last of the old order. The majority of the acolytes in the Monastery, now, had been born into the system. Only the older Clerics had vague memories of the Upheaval.

Partridge had been almost ten when his parents, younger sister and older brother were killed in one of the last terrorist attacks before the end of the Second Councillary and establishment of the Tetragrammaton. His uncle was already a leading figure and brought the shell-shocked boy into the Monastery. By degrees, the New Order emerged, its birth pains relieved by the mass opiate, Prozium. Partridge had embraced the drug with a zeal which even he recognised as flawed, based as it was on a desire to forget tragedy. Yet gradually, the daily injections and the words of Father – the leader of the Third Councillary – suppressed his anxiety and fear, replacing them with faith and allegiance to the cause. He had risen swiftly through the ranks, acknowledged as an exceptional student.

Faith...now there's a good word. Whenever one can't explain something, then one must have Faith. Whenever there are awkward questions to be asked, Faith is always the answer. I have Faith...just not in the Tetragrammaton...

Partridge opened the book and began to scan the pages, but the words seemed to flow together and blur. He blinked once, then again. The page before him was suddenly wet...

When was the last time I wept?

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