Anathem

Part 1

PROVENER

Extramuros: (1) In Old Orth, literally “outside the walls.” Often used in reference to the walled city-states of that age. (2) In Middle Orth, the non-mathic world; the turbulent and violent state of affairs that prevailed after the Fall of Baz. (3) In Praxic Orth, geographical regions or social classes not yet enlightened by the resurgent wisdom of the mathic world. (4) In New Orth, similar to sense 2 above, but often used to denote those settlements immediately surrounding the walls of a math, implying comparative prosperity, stability, etc.

—THE DICTIONARY, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

Do your neighbors burn one another alive?” was how Fraa Orolo began his conversation with Artisan Flec.

Embarrassment befell me. Embarrassment is something I can feel in my flesh, like a handful of sun-warmed mud clapped on my head.

“Do your shamans walk around on stilts?” Fraa Orolo asked, reading from a leaf that, judging by its brownness, was at least five centuries old. Then he looked up and added helpfully, “You might call them pastors or witch doctors.”

The embarrassment had turned runny. It was horrifying my scalp along a spreading frontier.

“When a child gets sick, do you pray? Sacrifice to a painted stick? Or blame it on an old lady?”

Now it was sheeting warm down my face, clogging my ears and sanding my eyes. I could barely hear Fraa Orolo’s questions: “Do you fancy you will see your dead dogs and cats in some sort of afterlife?”

Orolo had asked me along to serve as amanuensis. It was an impressive word, so I’d said yes.

He had heard that an artisan from extramuros had been allowed into the New Library to fix a rotted rafter that we could not reach with our ladders; it had only just been noticed, and we didn’t have time to erect proper scaffolding before Apert. Orolo meant to interview that artisan, and he wanted me to write down what happened.

Through drizzly eyes, I looked at the leaf in front of me. It was as blank as my brain. I was failing.

But it was more important to take notes of what the artisan said. So far, nothing. When the interview had begun, he had been dragging an insufficiently sharp thing over a flat rock. Now he was just staring at Orolo.

“Has anyone you know ever been ritually mutilated because they were seen reading a book?”

Artisan Flec closed his mouth for the first time in quite a while. I could tell that the next time he opened it, he’d have something to say. I scratched at the edge of the leaf just to prove that my quill had not dried up. Fraa Orolo had gone quiet, and was looking at the artisan as if he were a new-found nebula in the eyepiece of a telescope.

Artisan Flec asked, “Why don’t you just speel in?”

“Speel in,” Fraa Orolo repeated to me, a few times, as I was writing it down.

I spoke in bursts because I was trying to write and talk at the same time: “When I came—that is, before I was Collected—we—I mean, they—had a thing called a speely…We didn’t say ‘speel in’—we said ‘cruise the speely.’” Out of consideration for the artisan, I chose to speak in Fluccish, and so this staggering drunk of a sentence only sounded half as bad as if I’d said it in Orth. “It was a sort of—”

“Moving picture,” Orolo guessed. He looked to the artisan, and switched to Fluccish. “We have guessed that ‘to speel in’ means to partake of some moving picture praxis—what you would call technology—that prevails out there.”

“Moving picture, that’s a funny way to say it,” said the