Orlo: The Created – Chapter 1
Orlo fidgeted with the pieces of metal he had collected during his travels. He squinted to place a tiny pin between two gears and then reached into the pocket of his trousers to see what else he could attach. The warmth in the crowded room made his hairless head sweat under his clean, but well-used, tweed cap. Orlo stretched his long legs out in front of him and wiggled his toes to keep them from falling asleep in his work boots. He was tall for thirteen, nearly as tall as most of the men assigned as deliverers. Tiny holes in the ground puffed a warm gentle mist of glowing steam around his feet. He slid his foot over the opening and then let it go. A burst of light shot up in front of him—eventually to blend into the hovering mist that illuminated the congested cavern.
Orlo had purposely chosen to sit on the back row so no one would sit beside him, but the Slub was busier than usual and seating was limited. He had never been told, nor had he thought to ask, why the deliverers of long ago had nicknamed the Hall of Deliverers the Slub. Since Slub was easier to say, Orlo had allowed it to easily settle into his vocabulary.
“Whatcha doin’, mate?” the tiny boy sitting beside Orlo asked.
“Don’t know. Just messin’ around, I guess,” Orlo mumbled, wishing the boy would leave him alone.
He honestly did not know what he was doing with the metallic pieces in his hand. His caretaker in the Hall of Orphan Care said that he was born a fidgeter. The elders of the garden must have been aware of his fidgeting as well. On the day of assigning the gardener had said, “Busy people must be kept busy. We have the perfect assignment for you, Deliverer.” From that point on, Orlo spent nearly every day of the week in the Slub.
“Where did you get it?” the boy, at least three years his junior, persisted. The pale child pushed the goggles that were slipping down on his forehead back upon his greasy, matted hair. There’d been a time when Orlo thought he would never grow into his own goggles.
The boy looked around as if to see if anyone was listening. With a huge grin, he asked, “Did an inventor give it to ya?”
Orlo was shocked. “Of course not!”
“What’s it do?”
Orlo squinted. “Nothing. It doesn’t do anything, okay?”
“Course it does, mate! Look! Those pieces are movin’ up and down.” Orlo stared at what he had done. “You have the gifting,” the boy said in an awed whisper.
“Listen, kid. I’m a deliverer, that’s all. Deliverers don’t have giftings. We make the deliveries and that’s it. Got it?”
“I got it, mate,” the boy said as he slumped over.
It was against the law to be unkind to others. Orlo did not think he had crossed the line into unkindness, but he remembered what it was like to be little and to have his feelings hurt by the older deliverers. He placed the gadget in his black satchel, clasped his hands together, and looked at the sad child. “So, do you have a guardian?”
“No,” the boy said flatly. That was not the answer Orlo had expected. By the age of seven, most orphans were already placed in a guardianship. Orlo knew he had unintentionally hit a soft spot, so he changed the subject.
“What’s your favorite garden?”
The boy perked up a bit. “The one with the green birds.”
“That’s a good one, but not my favorite.” Orlo felt sorry for the boy. Kids in the Hall of Orphan Care had it rough, especially the ones assigned to the Slub. “What if I told you that my last delivery was to L923?”
“No way! Was it . . .”
“Dead and dry. I saw it with my own eyes!”
“No way! Then it’s true. Their leader burned it down?”
“Looked that way. Not a thing grew. My cartagon was stacked full with crates of seeds. I guess they’re planning on growing it back.”
The boy sat with his mouth hanging open in awe of Orlo’s journey. The garden they called L923 had become the topic of dinner conversations, teachings, and speculation among the people of the Conclusus. “Wow!” the boy mouthed.
Orlo had been overcome by the same sense of excitement when he’d received his orders to deliver to L923. He would be able to see—with his own eyes—what others in the Conclusus could only imagine. He had made many deliveries in his five years as a deliverer and had seen gardens of all sorts and sizes, but this last delivery was in a garden unlike any he had seen before. Their land was barren—rumor had spread that one of them had burned it completely to the ground. To Orlo, the idea that someone would do such a thing was unfathomable. Even though he was at the bottom of the Decorum, their social order, the Conclusus was his home. He would never do anything to upset the balance that established his way of life.
“Want to know the strangest part about it?” Orlo asked, leaning in to the boy. The boy’s brown eyes were wide and eager. He had no reason to doubt the truth behind what Orlo was about to tell him. To tell a lie, whether accidental or intentionally, was against the law, and would result in removal from the Conclusus. Orlo continued, “All of their elders were teenagers! Not one of them looked much older than me. Even their gardener couldn’t have been but a season or two past my age!” In his heart, Orlo wondered what it would be like to live in such a place, a place where he, an orphaned deliverer, could have all the privileges and reverence of an elder.
“Wow! Can you imagine the Mysterium talking to a kid?”
“Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But it’s what I saw.” People in the Conclusus talked to the Mysterium all the time, but it was well known that the gardener was the one who had the gifting to hear His voice.
Orlo’s guardian had once explained that in the World above them the Mysterium’s name was God, and He spoke to her all the time. Even though it was against the law to lie, he’d had a hard time believing what she had told him.
Orlo looked over at the clerk to see if she was looking his way, but the middle-aged woman with her hair lumped in a knot on top her head was busy sorting a stack of disheveled papers. He tapped his fingers nervously on his slacks, sighed, pulled out his cracked pocket watch, sighed again, and put it back in his pocket. This was the longest he had ever left his cartagon anywhere. The holdup made him nervous. He did not feel that his cartagon was safe unless it was either with him or in its holding. The cartagon was his responsibility; it was entrusted to him. Usually, wherever the cartagon went, he went. Only on exceptionally large deliveries did he leave it to be unloaded—and this last delivery was his biggest yet. He could not imagine what would be taking them this long.
It had been nearly four hours.
Orlo glanced down at the boy. The boy would go back to the Hall of Orphan Care when his orders were complete, and Orlo would return to the home of his guardian. Today they were to celebrate her birthday, and since he did not have a gift to give her, he wanted to finish early so that he could surprise her by walking her home from the tower where she fulfilled her orders. Poppy was the closest Orlo believed he would ever come to having a mother. She was a product of the World above, born and raised in its ways, and brought to the Conclusus when a handsome messenger on a mission had fallen madly in love and married her. When Orlo was small, before being assigned his place as a deliverer, she would tell him stories of the World. She told him about baseball games, airplanes, and oceans. She told him about electrical devices that recorded, projected images, and took pictures—it was those tales that intrigued him the most.
It did not matter how many gardens he saw, Orlo longed to one day see the inventions of the World. That was the one place his cartagon would not take him, and unfortunately, the one place he knew he would never be able to go. Those who were strong enough and possessed the gifting to protect themselves from the evils of the World could travel back and forth. They were assigned as messengers. Orlo had witnessed two departure ceremonies in his lifetime. The messengers paraded through town in their finest attire while their apprentices followed behind collecting donations for their journey. When the messengers returned days—sometimes years later, depending on their mission to the World—they were changed, different. They seemed to have trouble functioning in the Upper Decorum of the Conclusus.
As he grew, it was not only the wonders of the World that interested him, but all of the working contraptions around him. He wanted to know why sound went higher when the strings on a fiddle were pulled tightly, and what made the hand on the clock move around at the exact same speed as every other clock in the Conclusus. He wanted the knowledge of the inventors.
For those assigned as inventors, this wisdom came with all the privileges of the Upper Decorum. If Orlo had it, he would get to sit at the front of the weekly Gathering, go to classes in the Hall of Educators, wear the purple sash across his chest, and live in one of the highest towers in all of the Conclusus.
But Orlo knew that this was never to be. The idea was as absurd as thinking he was gifted to be a messenger or a healer. He was an orphaned fidgeter, a deliverer, stuck to drive his cartagon for the rest of his days, never to be reassigned, because his parents had abandoned him to a life in the Lower Decorum. He would continue to do as he was told, he would not ask questions or complain, because his life was bound to the law of the Conclusus. At least, he thought, looking down at the boy whose hands were tucked under his thighs with his legs swinging back and forth, I have a guardian.
“Orlo the deliverer!” the clerk called. “You may receive!” Orlo stood up, stretched his back, tucked his blousy white button-down shirt securely in his loose brown pants, adjusted his belt, and pulled his own metal-rimmed goggles over his watery blue eyes.
“That’s me! Good day, Deliverer.”
“Good day, Deliverer,” the boy called after him. Orlo felt good. Maybe he had given the kid something to talk about with the other orphans in the confines of the Hall of Orphan Care.
After spending his whole day waiting, Orlo eagerly shuffled over to the long cave wall where enormous wooden doors appeared and disappeared, forming giant entryways to the other gardens below the World. He watched, ready, for his gate—and his cartagon—to appear.
But a man with a short white beard, standing to the left of the wall, raised his left arm, palm out. Five metal fingers, connected at the joints with golden springs, demanded Orlo’s attention. “That will be far enough, Deliverer.” A look of concern passed over the familiar face.
Orlo realized that the door, his door, to L923 had yet to appear. He certainly hoped nothing was wrong.