UKArchive ID: 36481mitch
Originally published on April 29, 2016 in Fiction
Chapter 05 of the Light-Father. Harold learns about the tragic Ferals - the mutated survivors of the Great Plague and more about a world where parents genetically engineered their own children to ensure their survival but not Ibrahim and Bastet... their father's arrogance was beyond measure.
Saul led Harold to the overgrown verge – the only open ground in the whole yard. He pointed to a patch of overgrown grass and brambles no different from the rest. “That’s where I buried Rebecca,” he said simply. “She had five years on the day she died in my arms. She had these huge brown eyes…”
Harold gazed at the fat red sun now grazing the tree-line beyond the far western wall of the immense rail-yard. He reached out and placed a hand on the distraught youth’s shoulder. “I’m a fine one to talk after losing my Naomi and bottling it up for years, but let it out, son. Cry if you feel the need – there is no shame to it. When I was a child, my father used to tell me that a man who cannot cry is not a man but a monster. It’s funny, all the men I know - used to know – who bragged that real men never shed a tear were either liars or wife beaters…”
“Thank you, Light-Father…”
“Pfft! Don’t thank me,” Harold sighed, readying his shovel. “You were only a child and yet you buried children here and saved the others with your cousin, David. You’re more a man than I am, son, never forget that. Now before I start crying myself, let’s honour your Mother Moss.” He cut through the layers of brambles and weeds and began to dig into the soft dark soil. “Get the boxes into the mail-wagon,” he ordered curtly, the sweat beading his brow. “This will only take a few minutes.”
As he dug, the children slowly gathered to watch him at his labour. Fuelled by his fury, the grave was soon excavated and he laid the pathetic remnants of Mother Moss reverently to rest. He climbed out of the grave and turned to the children. “It’s a custom in my world to place a handful of earth or some flowers upon the body and say a few words,” he said, finding his eyes suddenly filling with tears. They all seemed puzzled at his suggestion so he grabbed a handful of earth and cast it into the grave. “Mother Moss, I never knew you but you have my word that I will save these children in your memory. Amen.”
Shield grasped the idea quickly and stepped forward. She unstrapped the small triangular shield from her left arm and knelt by the graveside heedless of the nettles and brambles penetrating her worn breeches. She tossed in a handful of earth and wild flowers from the patch. “Thank you, Mother Moss,” she wept openly. “You rescued us from the Tally-men and took away the fear and the hate and made me whole again. Thank you, blessed Mother - I will never forget you or the wisdom that you imparted into me. I will seek out more knowledge and natural lore so that I may become worthy of your love for us.”
One by one the children followed suit with thanks and prayers punctuated by Harold blowing his nose loudly into a large red handkerchief. Finally, Saul added his contribution which to Harold’s surprise was a small bible with a gold cross embossed upon the cover. “I know you did not follow the Scriptures and the words of Jesus,” he declared. “But God is God and has no gender or hatred and loves all His children equally. He… She will have a place for you in Heaven.”
He stood up and Harold was moved to add ‘Amen’ before setting to work with the shovel again. After he’d finished, he saw that the sun had vanished behind a bank of gathering cloud and spits of rain were already upon the wind. His stomach was growling, demanding its evening fix of Chinese takeaway. “We need to find this generator quickly,” he declared. “But we may not have time tonight if we’re hunting for food as well.”
“Oh, we have a much more serious problem, Light-Father,” Saul said grimly as he drew his sword. “Retreat to the mail-wagon, all of you! Look over there in the shadows between the sheds: a pack of Ferals has scaled the northern wall again!”
“Shit, Ferals? How many of them are there?” Harold demanded, hefting his shovel. “Let’s see - I can see about twelve. Let’s get this right, Saul - you say these are children, yes?”
“Do not be fooled - they are not human children, Light-Father,” Saul said, taking a firm grip on his sword hilt. “The plague has corrupted their DNA and disfigured them and it is only a miracle that they have survived at all. I’ve seen Ferals bring down a whole patrol of Tally-men, Light-Father. Feral means Feral - they won’t stop until you are dead and then they will eat you. They are not children! If you think that for a second, you’re dead.”
“Have you seen them actually eat people?”
“Yes,” Saul shuddered. “I’ve seen them biting into the throats and bodies of the Tally-men they’d brought down.”
“So they’re cannibals?”
Saul looked at him with a pained expression. “They are no longer human, Light-Father. They smeared the blood onto their faces and howled like wolves. I saw flesh hanging from their jaws as they ripped the Tally-men apart.”
“Jesus! How often do they come?”
“Very rarely,” Saul said, shielding his eyes. “They’ve only invaded the yard twice before. I can’t believe we’ve had a Tally-man patrol and a pack of Ferals in the same day that you arrived to us, Light-Father. It cannot be a coincidence.”
“We have to pull back, Saul,” Shield hissed urgently. “There are too many of them!”
“Something’s got them excited,” Harold noted anxiously as they retreated back to the wagon. “They’re actually sniffing at the ground like bloodhounds! Can we bolt the wagon doors?”
“Yes,” Saul said, cocking an ear. “This is strange. Listen to the sounds they’re making. They aren’t angry for once - they just seem curious. They must have picked up your scent but they don’t know what to make of it.” He looked at the bemused technician with an amused smile. “I think they know that you’re not human or at least that you’re not from this world.”
“You can tell that from those damn noises?”
Saul nodded. “We’ve had many years of practice,” he said wearily. “Apart from those two nights, they’ve never attacked us but we’ve encountered them many times over the years. They attack Tally-men patrols without mercy whenever they get the chance and they could easily do the same to us.”
“I can’t believe those things were once human,” Harold said in disbelief as he studied the loping and scuttling forms.
“As Saul said, the plague mutated their genetic make up yet it has also enhanced their senses,” Shield explained as they clambered into the wagon. “They are much stronger and faster than us. We… Saul! They’re by the grave of Mother Moss!”
Harold could see them clearly now: twelve small shapes scuttling from cover to inspect the grave. “Damn it!” he hissed. “They’re trying to dig her body back up.”
Before he knew it, the anger had taken over and he charged across the rails screaming in fury with the shovel raised above his head and the tools upon his belt clattering as he ran. To his surprise, the Ferals scattered in every direction at an astonishing speed leaving him with fleeting images of brutish deformed faces - only the eyes were still very much human. One Feral however paused to stare intently into his face before haring off.
Saul stood next to him as the yammering and screeches faded in the gathering twilight. “Ha, you do have the soul of a warrior after all,” he grinned, clapping Harold on the back.
“One of them tried to talk to me,” Harold said thoughtfully. “Only he had a muzzle instead of a mouth. I know a little about genetics – this virus is unbelievable….”
“It was well-designed,” Saul shuddered, sheathing his sword. “My father grew fangs before his digestive system perforated and my mother’s skin became scaly and green before her heart failed. As far as I understand it, the virus activates redundant DNA in our cells and brings out buried evolutionary regressions… and some others that aren’t natural."
“Like dog-face back there. Dear God, they must be more nano-machines than viruses then and from what I’ve just seen, what doesn’t kill you makes you Feral. This Order makes my blood run cold – to actually design something that warps the human body like that and leave only corpses and mutations behind…”
“I will never forgive them, Light-Father!” Saul said vehemently, clenching a fist. “Despite that night when I… when we lost Eliza and Jacob, I pity the Ferals especially if they remember what it was to be human. Every night I pray that Eliza and Jacob are still alive out there.” Saul looked at Harold with the pain evident in his eyes. “I feel in my heart that they’re alive and I promise you I will never stop looking for them.”
“Nor should you,” Harold agreed. “The Ferals did not seem evil or bestial to me only curious and really sad. I looked into his eyes, Saul. That was no beast. Anyway, it’s almost dark and we need to get some food inside you and these kids - that has to be a priority. You said you haven’t eaten for at least two days?”
“Yes but it’s getting hard to forage in the city centre,” Shield pointed out. “The stores are empty and the Tally-men patrol.”
“But you said that there was a housing estate on the other side of the gates. Surely there would be supplies of tinned food in those houses that the Tally-men haven’t taken?”
Shield and Saul both stared at the ground. “Those houses were the homes of the children of Exodus,” Shield said. “To enter them would be sacrilege to us because…”
“They’re still filled with corpses,” Harold sighed. “I understand. Saul and I will go, Shield - you and the others protect the Keep. We only need two to carry back enough food for tonight.”
“I can fight alongside you,” she retorted.
“As can I!” Ibrahim said angrily. “You cannot favour the Elder to accompany you on such a mission!”
Harold immediately sensed the resentment that Ibrahim felt towards Saul who seemed oblivious to it. “I favour no-one, son,” he said firmly. “As God favours no-one on this earth. You and Shield are the best warriors here, are you not?”
“Yes, we have both killed Tally-men.”
“Good, then who better to defend the Keep and carry on should we fail,” Harold said innocently. “Instead of losing all of you… what do you call yourselves?”
“Afliemathingas,” Ibrahim said proudly.
“Ach,” Harold winced, feeling a trickle of blood in one nostril and a lancing pain ricocheting between his temples. “The translation isn’t working properly. Say it again, Ibrahim.”
“Scatterlings, Light-Father - we call ourselves Scatterlings for that is what we are: scattered to Fate and the four winds.”
“That’s better - a good name for the tribe,” Harold approved. “Your sister is very shy, isn’t she? Come on out from behind your brother, Bastet. I don’t bite. You are lucky to have such a fine brother to look after you and defend you.”
As Bastet emerged hesitantly, Ibrahim indicated the modern-looking bow – almost as tall as she was - strapped to her back and the quiver of arrows. “She has but fourteen years yet she has killed two Tally-men with her bow. She is a fine archer.”
“I am called Bas, Light-Father,” she said, staring at the ground. “I had no pleasure from killing them but I did not miss.”
“Good for you. Are you from Egypt?” Harold asked. “The designs on your clothes remind me of the Pharaohs especially your pants, Bas, and that jacket, Ibrahim.”
Ibrahim nodded and picked at the jacket. “It is very worn but a popular style in Egypt honouring our ancient cultures that were all but destroyed by the Nubian and Byzantine Empires.”
“I see: more history I need to learn. I see Bas has cute false ears like Mouse,” Harold smiled. He reached out to touch them only to have his hand instantly slapped to one side.
“Do not touch her!” Ibrahim snarled, his eyes flashing as he drew the downcast girl behind him. “You must never ever touch her,” he added, threatening Harold with his axe. “Light-Father or not, I will kill you if you disrespect her again!”
Harold held his hands up placatingly and backed away. “You know I did not mean to offend her, son. It’s just that she looked as though she needed some reassurance.”
Ibrahim glared at Harold as his sister returned to the mail-wagon in misery, her shoulders sagging. “She needs no such reassurance,” he said, slowly lowering the axe and turning away. “She just needs to be left alone. Be on your guard, Saul,” he added.
Harold removed his cap to scratch at his scalp as Ibrahim and Shield herded the children back into the wagons. “Wow, that lad is definitely over-protective. Is there something going on between those two that I should know about?”
Saul took him by the arm and led him towards the gates. “There were Exodus labs in Abydos where they lived and their father, Professor Farzad, was the best geneticist in the East…”
“Farzad sounds like a Persian name…”
“It is but he married an Egyptian scientist and they eventually moved here to the Middle Cities to continue their work.”
“So what has that got to do with her brother wanting to hack me to pieces like that? I was only going to pat her on the head and have a closer look at those fake ears…”
Saul stopped dead to look him in the eye. “You don’t understand,” he said. “Their father was valued by the Order. They were fascinated by his early experiments splicing DNA from one species into another and controlling certain aspects of the cross-breeds. He was obsessed by ancient Egyptian myths depicting Anubis and other gods as humans with animal heads.”
“They were doing that in my world – crossing sheep and goats and reviving mammoths using elephants as surrogates…” Harold paused in shock as the penny dropped. “So are you saying this Professor Farzad was experimenting on splicing animal DNA into humans? That’s monstrous!”
“Indeed. Why do you think Ibrahim is so angry and burns with shame? He is the eldest son of the man who made the Revelation Virus possible!”
Harold felt a shiver run down his spine. “That Feral had dog or maybe baboon characteristics to its face. Wait, are you saying Bastet was a genetic experiment by her own father?”
Saul nodded grimly. “Ibrahim slapped your hand away because the ears you wanted to remove from her head were real.”
(c) Paul D.E. Mitchell 2012
Archived comments for Chapter 05: Bastet
Mikeverdi on 30-04-2016
Chapter 05: Bastet
Still keeping up, still enjoying the story.