UKArchive



UKArchive ID: 36466Chapter 04: Vaccine by mitch
Originally published on April 25, 2016 in Fiction

Chapter 04 of the Light-Father - Harold bonds with Saul and learns more of the tragedy of Mother Moss



Harold was sitting in an old office chair in between the tracks watching the sun slowly sinking in the west and enjoying the warmth of the sunlight upon his face. He felt inexplicably at peace despite his peculiar situation almost as if someone or something was rewarding him for his acceptance of this strange destiny. He removed his baseball cap to mop at his brow as the evening air was warm and muggy. “It’ll rain again soon,” he said aloud, gazing up at the clouds. “No wonder there’s so much moss and mildew.”

“It rains for months at a time, Light-Father,” Saul said, bringing another chair from the mail-wagon and sitting next to Harold. “We thank God for the endless rain as it suppresses the Tally-men. In winter, the rain gets heavier and everything floods but Fierce and Ibrahim are wrong - it is not getting colder; it only feels that way. I can remember snow and frost before the plague but there has been none since. I have thermometers in my caravan and year on year the temperature is slowly rising but I do not know why.”

“I do,” Harold sighed. “Without people to maintain them, buildings catch fire, forests burn and the air is filled with green-house gases even with all the cars and industry stopped.”

“Greenhouse gases? What are they?”

“Uh? Of course, you’ve all missed education. Carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and methane act like a blanket in the atmosphere that traps the heat so the global temperature rises.”

“So it will never snow again?”

“Yes it will. The rain is washing out the carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide every day. I expect this rain is acidic,” he said pointing at the decaying engines on the other side of the sheds. “That’s why everything is rusting so quickly. It’ll probably take decades before the temperature falls again,” he shrugged. “You may even get an ice-age. Who knows?”

“All I know is that this yard has been under water twice since we’ve been here. The Redemption Virus has destroyed all the Unworthy in the world yet the sky keeps crying.”

“Fierce said the same thing earlier. It’s a little creepy and reminds me of an old blues song: the sky is crying, can't you see the tears roll down the street. I've been looking for my woman, and I wonder where can she be…

“That’s a strange melody - what is blues?”

“It’s just a style of music in my world, Saul. When we were unhappy or oppressed, we would say we’re feeling blue and sing the blues to express our sorrow.”

Saul looked up at the gathering clouds. “I used to love a blue sky as a child but now I fear it and bless the ceaseless rain. I’m sorry if we upset you by saying the sky is crying but it helps us bear the nightmares much like this blues of yours...”

“I’m not surprised you kids have nightmares,” Harold sighed, replacing his cap. “I can’t imagine what it must have been like for a child to live through a plague. It’s so quiet here - all I can hear are birds and insects - are you sure there’s a city out there?”

“Yes, Crawcester once housed five hundred thousand souls but at least the air is clean now, praise God.”

“Please, no more dark humour, Saul - I still need to get my bearings here if I’m going to be of any use. What was it like to live in Crawcester before these lunatics let this plague loose?”

“It was a beautiful city,” Saul said simply. “We lived in a big house not far from the gates. I can still see it if I stand on the roof of my caravan and look over the wall. I’m at peace here because I loved coming into this yard as a child - my uncle worked in the main office over there, where you appeared to us.” Saul paused and a rare grin lit up his gaunt thin features. “He used to ask the engine drivers to let me ride on the footplates of the shunting engines as they moved the wagons around the yard. The city was full of smoke and cars and noise back then and this yard was a magical place for me as a small child - I used to boast in school that I had the biggest train set in the whole world.”

“All those engines over there are steam powered,” Harold pointed out. “Did you ever see any diesel trains in this yard?”

“Diesel? What is diesel?”

“Sorry, that won’t translate, I guess. It’s oil that ignites in a combustion chamber when compressed to power an engine.”

“Yes, heavy fuel,” Saul nodded. “We call it athidol and the cars use the light fuel scyfol.”

“We call it petrol,” Harold said thoughtfully, rubbing at a temple. “Seems like whoever or whatever downloaded your language into my skull missed a few things out. Maybe I could get one of those vans to work and we could all drive somewhere.”

“No, that would be a bad idea, Light-Father. Tally-men watch the roads and any vehicle they see is hunted down by the rotor-craft of the Order. They have powerful guns and some have rockets… boom! I saw this happen many times at the start of the plague and they still patrol the main roads between the cities.”

“I see,” Harold said, pursing his lips. “Cute.”

“So we had no locomotives burning athidol in this country,” Saul continued. “There were plans to make electric trains that took power from overhead wires but the Order deemed them to be unsafe and unholy so they slowed down the research and halted the production. The Order were not that strong in the Japanese Empire and the American Confederation so there were many such locomotives in their cities.”

“Did anyone survive over there?”

“I doubt it,” Saul shrugged. “The Empire and the Confederation were both crippled by civil wars over ten years ago. It was the third war in the Confederation in only twenty years and then millions and millions of Chinese died in the Great Han Uprising.” he shuddered. “We studied the massacres at school. Perhaps the world is better off without humans.”

“There was a third civil war in America?” Harold exclaimed. “Don’t tell me they never got over… no, wait… I have no history of this world. Damn it, Saul, I need to learn everything quickly if I’m ever going to survive here and work out a way to get back to my own world.”

“You said you had little to get back to,” Saul said bluntly, folding his arms. “And did not Mother Moss give you your true destiny? I admit your world sounds interesting, Light-Father. At least you haven’t had to live through what we have - watching millions and millions die. The smell,” he said, wrinkling up his nose at the memory. “I’ll never forget those first months we were hiding in this yard. The children were dying all around me and the sky was black with fat crows and flies and the earth crawled with dogs and maggots and endless rats…”

“Ah, there must have been millions of bodies and farm animals lying everywhere unburied.”

“I buried those of us who died,” Saul said pointedly. “They lie under that grass verge over there, alongside the tracks.”

“You did well, Saul,” Harold said sympathetically. “But what happened to all the people working here? Judging by all those cars parked up, a lot of people never made it home. Was the plague that quick? Where are all the bones and bodies?”

“None died here - the roads and rail-yards were closed to try and stop the spread of the disease but it was too late. You’ll need this,” Saul said, carefully removing a handkerchief from around a thin small box. He opened the lid to reveal a syringe, several needles in sealed wrappers and three small phials of clear green liquid. “My father gave me these to save others.”

“I’m guessing that that’s a vaccine for this Revelation Virus,” Harold said suspiciously. “I expect there are a lot of diseases in this world I might be extremely vulnerable to. So what do I do? Do I inject all three?”

“Only one,” Saul said, attaching a needle to the syringe. He slowly pierced the cap of one of the vaccine vials and extracted the contents. “I was praying that I would be able to save three others with my father’s gift – something to honour his memory - but after five years of death, I had given up all hope and then you came in that strange light… that holy light.”

“I don’t know about holy but I can tell you I’m a little shy of needles,” Harold confessed, turning away to stare at the great iron gates. “I don’t even give blood though I should do being O negative and… ow! Jesus!”

“Sorry, Light-Father, there is no time to waste when dealing with this plague,” Saul said firmly, withdrawing the needle from Harold’s thigh. “It will only work if you’re clean of the virus. If you’re already infected, the vaccine can actually speed up the progress of the disease – a small mercy, I suppose. You see, once our parents learnt of the virus, they inoculated the children first but by the time the second batch of vaccine was ready…”

“I know,” Harold said grimly. “The Order had made sure they’d already inhaled a version of the virus. Dear God, what gave them the right do this? Hang on, there’s one thing I don’t quite understand - if a disease is that lethal then it won’t spread if it kills all the hosts. In Africa on my world, a whole village would get wiped out by Ebola mutations which then died out along with the victims so how did it spread so fast here?”

“The Fathers were most thorough,” Saul replied, rewrapping the syringe box and placing it in a pocket. “They arranged for the virus to be released in every major city and every major hospital in the world at the same time. The Order was a global medical order and so their people were everywhere. The virus has a ten-day gestation period so the victims would spend ten days with just sneezes and a sore throat that fooled them into thinking it was just a cold so that they kept travelling and infecting everyone. Ten days of air travel was all the Order needed to infect the entire world.”

Harold’s eyes widened in horror. “My God, this Schimrian must be a real piece of work,” he said, rubbing at his leg. “To kill billions because of dogma - what a bastard!”

“As I said – he’s a good man of the cloth.”

“Look, if I’m going to stay and help you guys then that dark humour has to go, understand? You’ve done an amazing job protecting these kids but you can’t stay in these rotting wagons and caravans forever. The children are filthy, lice-infested and hungry. They will become ill with other diseases over time.”

“Don’t think I haven’t tried,” Saul said with a wry smile. “I’ve scouted for safer places in the city but there are none. We are close to the countryside – four chains or so – we could hide in the woods if the Tally-men overrun the Keep but there are no sources of food out there to sustain us. The Ferals can hunt but we cannot. We have no choice but to stay here. If we move into the houses beyond the gates, the Tally-men will find us as they search them every day.”

“But your protector has gone,” Harold said, indicating the empty tin on the tracks in front of them. “The Tally-men were terrified of her. What happened when they came too close? How did she teach them that lesson about ‘pain’?”

“They would approach the track and if they stepped on the rails, a flash of lightning would knock them to the ground then she would ‘scream’ inside their heads so that they would remember who they were and flee in pain and terror, dropping their weapons and thrusting each other out of the way.”

“Thanks to the lobotomies, they seem pretty stupid,” Harold observed, scratching at his chin. “But once they realise she’s gone, all the children here will be taken.”

“But we have you now.”

“Do I look like a warrior or one of these Wiccans?” Harold said gently, prodding at his ample waistline. “I’m sorry but I’m just a humble laboratory technician who smokes and drinks too much for his own good. The last fight I had was when three men attacked me outside a pub called the White Swan over ten years ago. I was just a roadie for the band playing there and I got pummelled – I didn’t even land a single punch.”

“Rho-dee for the band?” Saul inquired. “What is this?”

“I guess there’s no equivalent here,” Harold sighed, rubbing at his eyes. “I carried all the musical equipment in from the van into the pub for the musicians and took the ticket money on the door for the concerts only we called them ‘gigs’.”

“I see,” Saul smiled. “I would like to see one of these ‘gigs’ in one of these ‘pubs’ some day.”

“You’d enjoy it but as I said, I’m no hero, Saul.”

“If that is the case then the Tally-men or the Ferals will take us,” Saul said bleakly. “I hope we all die quickly so that we are spared the Great Abbey - I do not wish to become a Tally-man.”

Harold unwrapped a cigar and lit it, inhaling and exhaling luxuriously. “Never wish for death or disaster, lad, for God always grants your wish. Now, let’s get started. There are lights everywhere and a yard this big must have had a backup generator in case of power failures and maybe some batteries that we can charge up and use. Where would they be, Saul? Does this dump have a Tannoy system for example? I could follow the wires back to the main terminals and control panels.”

“Tan-noy? I know not the word, Light-Father.”

“A public address system. Loudspeakers powered by electricity. They allow the manager to contact workers on the site.”

“Loud… speakers? Oh, you mean electric-hailers? Yes, they are everywhere. What are you thinking of doing with them?”

“Back in my world, I’ve been quite the artist lately,” Harold smiled, savouring the cigar smoke.

“I’ve been turning burnt-out and outdated scientific machines into art. What I’m thinking is we could fool these Tally-men with a talking head in that tin powered by electricity and speaking through one of these ‘electric-hailers’ – I prefer loudspeaker, by the way. I could rig up something to charge the track and give them an electric shock. It would buy us some time to find somewhere safer than this yard.”

A light came into Saul’s eyes. “Yes, that might work for a while or at least it wouldn’t be any worse than our empty tin.”

“Ah, sarcasm now,” Harold chuckled, clapping the youth on the back. “Have a little faith in the Light-Father, lad. I may not be a warrior but I’m a wizard with machines.”

“I do have faith, Light-Father – Mother Moss must have seen our salvation in you and over the years, I’ve learnt to trust her judgement without question. So when can we start? We have but two hours before sunset.”

“Never hurry a Cuban cigar, lad, even a small one. I may not be able to enjoy another one when this packet runs out.”

“Do as you wish,” Saul pouted. “Fill your lungs with smoke!”

“Petulance is not good either. Don’t fret, I’ll put it out,” Harold conceded, snipping the end off the cigar and placing it into the packet. He stood up and put on his utility belt. “I doubt we’ll find servo-motors or anything like that in a rail-yard but I’m sure we’ll manage,” he grinned, gesturing at the nearby offices. “That’s as good a place to start as any. Lead on, MacDuff.”

“My name is Saul Dis not Mac Duff,” Saul protested. “I have no Scottish blood in me.”

“Where are you going?” Shield called suspiciously from the mail wagon. “We need to search for food later, don’t forget.”

“We won’t be long,” Harold promised, leading Saul towards the offices. “As for MacDuff, it’s from a famous play in my world, Saul. I’ll tell you all about it later.”

The door to the manager’s offices was kicked in and several windows were smashed so there was a lot of rain damage to the floors and desks near those windows but the roof had held. Cobwebs festooned every room and there was the faint and bitter reek of rotten meat.

“We need a large box of paper to mould into a head,” Harold explained as he went through drawers and filing cabinets. The writing was strange and archaic – a mix of Saxon and early English using Roman letters and the odd variation such as a crossed ‘d’ and a fused ‘k-s’ for ‘x’ - but he found he could read most of it. “I doubt anyone is going to want these invoices and timetables.” He paused as he saw a family portrait on one of the desks. It was of a man and two small children taken in the yard. “Poor buggers,” he said aloud. “I wonder what happened to them?”

“That’s Uncle Bruno,” Saul smiled nostalgically. “That’s me and that’s my cousin, David.”

“The young Tally-man from this afternoon?”

“Yes.”

“Ah, I see. I’m sorry but you need to take this,” Harold said as he removed the photo from the frame and tucked it into Saul’s inside pocket despite the youth’s protestations. “We won’t be able to retrieve it later and trust me you’ll regret leaving it behind. I left all my daughter’s photos in my flat. I don’t have single one to remember her by and that hurts.”

“I find this too painful, Light-Father,” Saul said clutching at the pocket as if he had been stabbed. “My uncle is dead and my cousin has been turned into a monster.”

“You must remember him as he was – a brave young man who did his best to protect everyone and twenty years from now,” Harold insisted, tapping Saul’s jacket pocket. “That photograph will be a precious keepsake you can share with the children you’ll have with Shield.”

“Shield?” Saul said angrily, his face flushing. “I have no such… interest in her - she’s a sister to me!”

“She’s not your sister and she’s a young woman, Saul,” Harold smiled as he inspected a junction box. “You may not notice the way she looks at you but to me it’s obvious that she loves you very much - even though it’s not reciprocated.”

“That can’t be!” Saul spluttered, reddening.

“It’s the same here as in my world - survival is one thing, but survival without love is pointless,” Harold said bitterly, driving a heavy screwdriver into the damp plaster to expose the wiring. Trust me – alcohol and loneliness make for a cold bed.”

“But I have no interest…”

“Make the interest,” Harold said curtly. “My God, the wires are just plastered over,” he gasped in professional horror. “There’s not even a conduit. What a cheap job! I’m amazed this place didn’t burn to the ground.” He began to tear out the mains wire, popping off all the thin plaster around the skirting boards. “Take this screwdriver, Saul, expose as much wiring as you can.”

Ten minutes later they had stripped every room and piled the paper, wire, loudspeakers and sockets into the only two serviceable cardboard boxes they could find. “Okay, let’s check out the main office at the end. It’s better to have too much than too little.”

“I’d rather not,” Saul said, his face paling.

“Why not?” Harold demanded then the realisation dawned. “Oh, I see. That was where Mother Moss lived and that’s where you said they tortured her to death.”

Saul nodded with tears in his eyes. “I know I should but I do not have the courage, Light-Father. I… I… ”

“Don’t worry, son, I understand. Stay here and keep watch as the Tally-men could trap us in here if they come back. I’ll check it out because I need to find out a little more about this Mother Moss, who she was and how she brought me here.”

The door was swollen in the frame and he had to charge it with his shoulder. It gave way suddenly and he staggered into the large and gloomy office. He went straight to the window that overlooked the wagons and tore down the mouldering blankets to let the last of the sunlight into the place. There was a large desk with several books and a lamp upon it dominating the centre of the office and a stove had been set against the wall with a crude hole cut into the roof for the chimney. Next to the stove was a simple bed with two elegant but faded umbrellas and the black habit of the Motherhood laid out upon the bedspread. He knelt down to look beneath the bed and found several folded black dresses and shawls along with five pairs of practical boots and shoes.

He got to his feet as Saul poked his head nervously around the door. “Light-Father, there’s nothing here for you…”

“Stay out there!” Harold barked as something had caught his eye behind the huge desk. “Whatever you do, do not come in here! Go and stand guard!”

“Yes, Light-Father,” Saul said meekly and retreated hurriedly down the corridor to wait by the main door.

Harold sank to his knees in open-mouthed horror and shock. “Jesus H Christ,” he groaned. “This was done by monks?

He took a deep breath and drew out his cutters to snip away the barbed wire tying the naked and mummified remains of Mother Moss to the chair which had been laid on its side to allow the butchers to hack off her head. The floor was blackened with blood and littered with dozens of improvised instruments of torture taken from the workshops – honest tools put to unspeakable deeds.

With a white-hot anger boiling in his heart, he wrapped the headless corpse in several blankets and carried it outside past the shocked and trembling youth. “There’s one thing I can promise you, Saul,” he said through gritted teeth.

“Y-yes, Light-Father,” Saul stuttered, paling as he stared at the bundle in Harold’s arms. “What is it?”

“One way or another, Schimrian is going to pay for this!”

© mitch (pdemitchell on OLD UKA)
UKArchive ID: 36466
Archived comments for Chapter 04: Vaccine
Mikeverdi on 25-04-2016
Chapter 04: Vaccine
Still reading, still enjoying. There are some inconsistencies along with the usual pruning needed. I don't care, I'm enjoying the tale.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike - it seems a little unpruned because there are references back in later chapters. I can't find any inconsistencies so let me know - wood for the trees and all that. Glad you are along for the ride! Mitch