Flesh & Bone
heard that the monks there are really scientists.”
    “I heard that too,” said another. “They used to work for the government. Some kind of bioweapons thing.”
    “No,” a female reaper chimed in, “the monks there are supposed to be trying to cure the disease so people can repopulate the world.”
    “Sinners!” growled a few.
    “Before I joined the Night Church,” said a man with a Navajo face, “I heard that there are two Sanctuaries. It’s supposed to be split down the middle, with the monks on one side and the scientists on the other side. The monks are just taking care of people—like hospice workers used to—and the scientists are trying to cure the plague. The monks are well intentioned but misguided. The scientists are the ones we shouldn’t trust.”
    “That’s right,” said another of the reapers. “I heard that they had cures for stuff like cancer and all those other diseases, but they kept it all secret because they had deals withpharmaceutical companies. It was all a big moneymaking scam.”
    Several of the reapers growled agreement with that. Even Lilah had heard some of these rumors. Mostly pre–First Night stuff she’d read in old books and newspapers she had salvaged, but in Mountainside everyone had one kind of conspiracy theory or another. Wriggly Sputters, the town’s eccentric mailman, was a walking encyclopedia of such stories, and he frequently said that there was a bunker or lab somewhere out in the Ruin where the government still existed. And in that bunker, the government maintained their power over the other survivors because they had control over cures to every known disease. No one really believed it, but few of the townsfolk stepped up to say that this was total nonsense. Lilah had no opinion on the subject—she cared very little for rumors.
    What she heard now, however, was fascinating.
    One reaper, a big man with a thick dark beard, laughed at the others. “Oh, please . . . you really think that the government would keep the cure to a doomsday plague to themselves after all that’s happened? Why would they let so many people die?”
    “Because it’s easier to rule a small population than try and control seven billion people,” insisted Brother Simon. “C’mon, Eric, that’s basic math. They took the best and the brightest and hid them away in these big caves and tunnels, and then they released the Gray Plague. You watch, one of these days they’re going to come out and announce a ‘cure,’ and then everyone who’s left will flock to them and hail them as the saviors of mankind. You watch.”
    “God won’t allow that to happen,” said Brother Eric.
    That quieted the reapers for a moment. It was a hard argument for any of them to knock down.
    Brother Simon shook his head. “Sure, that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing. Rather die in glory and join the darkness than live as slaves.”
    The rebuttal stalled Brother Eric for a moment, and he cut a look to Mother Rose. She gave him a bland smile.
    To Simon, Brother Eric said, “Don’t believe the myth of Sanctuary. It’s a lie told by refugees and heretics to give them false hope and to confuse us.”
    Before Brother Simon could reply, Mother Rose said, “Sanctuary is not a myth.”
    They all looked at her in surprise.
    “It is a very real place,” she continued, “and it is the most dangerous place on earth. Dangerous to everyone living, and dangerous to our own holy purpose.”
    Eric and Simon and the others shuffled in uncomfortable silence.
    “It is a weapon,” she said. “A great sword, if you will. A sword by itself is not evil. A sword can be used to slay an enemy, or release a suffering friend into the darkness. A sword can cut ropes that bind the helpless. A raised sword can be a threat or it can be a symbol of leadership.” She paused. “Consider our own war with the heretics. Many of them fight us with axes and knives and swords, and we know that in their hands these are tools

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