Three hundred years have I done this, recruited the talent, molded it to the will of the Society, led it on its course of Cleansing, of guiding the lost and distraught souls to The Gates. I've been lucky to work with wonderful Cleansers, none quite as successful as Abby.
Elders steepled their hands before me. seated in their high backed chairs, robes and hoods to hide their faces while I sat ten feet below the dais, held prisoner to their scrutiny. I'd never felt this way before. A prisoner. Scrutinized. I'd always opened my mind so that Cleanser confessions could be recorded for the Society's records.
For once, I didn't want them to hear Abby's words, her tone of voice when she referred to the boy. I didn't want them to see me skulking like a rat to spy on my Cleanser.
A handler...spying on their Cleanser. Pathetic.
What I saw made things worse. In the coffee shop, she sat beside something. It was no more a normal boy than any I'd ever seen. He wore the shell but more lurked beneath the skin. Abby - she was too far gone on things she was NOT supposed to feel to notice. I clinched my jaw as this last memory replicated and the reproduction slithered out my mouth like glittering vapor in the darkened room.
"Father Quanon," a soft female voice called from the dais, "this is most disturbing. Do you know what this means?"
"Yes." I nodded, despite the fact my verbal response was all they needed.
"Two more times, Handler. Two more instances where we can record a moment of such disobedience to our ways and there will be an inquiry." Her voice remained soft, gentle even, but the implications of her words were not lost on me.
A shudder shook my body. I coughed to mask it. If only I had been able to mask that memory.
Elders? A Society? Memories that can be claimed? Sure hope Father Quanon can make sure Abby doesn't reach disobedience number three.
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