UKArchive ID: 36718mitch
Originally published on July 11, 2016 in Fiction
Chapter 25 of the Light-Father: as the storm rages, Harold and the Scatterlings struggle to get their only hope of salvation ready: the Phoenix locomotive. Then Fierce notices that a spy has slipped into the building but what is he after?
After the meal, the shed became a bustle of activity as buckets of coal were ferried in from the nearby fuel stores leaving all the children soaked and soot-smeared as the storm raged above the sheds. Because of the intense lightning and nearby ground strikes, Harold had to stop working on the Phoenix to tend to the generator and every now and then a strip light exploded making Pup and Rabbit yell and rush about chasing the falling sparks.
Saul and Ibrahim peered into the water compartment in the locomotive tender as Harold clambered into the cab having finished his inspection of the pistons, drive wheels and controls. “How in the Virgin’s name are we going to fill this?” Saul demanded. “It would take us days to fill this up with buckets.”
“I’m sure you’ll think of something!” Harold called from inside the firebox. He was trying to check it with a torch but he was struggling to keep the curious Pup and the giggling Rabbit from climbing inside. “It looks fine in here,” he declared. “Thank God they’d finished all the internal work.”
“Everything is polished as new,” Pup grinned as Harold placed a driver’s cap on his head that he’d found wedged behind the water gauge in the cab. “Pup has a new toy to play with!”
“And me too!” Rabbit laughed as she played with the controls. “Rabbit’s train goes as fast as lightning! Whooosh!”
“What about the water, Light-Father?” Saul insisted.
Ibrahim listened intently to the rain hammering down upon on the ridged roof above their heads for a moment then pointed to drain pipes, gutters and joints stacked up against one of the walls. “They must have been planning to replace the water goods on the outside of the shed,” he said thoughtfully, gazing up at the high windows. “If we can open one of those windows and divert the gutter water down here through a network of pipes, we can fill the water tank in no time.”
“Good thinking, lads,” Harold grinned up at them. “Don’t forget to sieve all the moss and leaves out of the water.”
“Aren’t you going to help us?” Ibrahim demanded.
“Not me,” Harold shrugged. “The water injector under the cabin is not fully reconnected – hopefully that was the last job they were working on before the plague struck. It won’t take me long but I will have to do that while you two work out the plumbing of your aqueduct. Don’t forget that pipes get heavy and sag when filled with water,” he reminded them cheerfully.
Ibrahim and Saul stomped off grumbling to each other as he jumped down to select some spanners and wrenches from the tool box. Fern had changed Mouse’s dressings and approached to talk to him but the smile on her face painfully reminded him of Andrea when he’d first met her at a music club ten years ago. She paused and stared at him with her head tilted to one side.
“Yes?” he said irritably as Pup and Rabbit clambered up onto the roof of the cab to join Eliza and Jacob in a frenzied game of pat-a-cake. “I wish you wouldn’t keep looking at me like that - it’s unsettling. I keep thinking you’re poking about in my head – which is a gross invasion of privacy by the way!”
“Oh, I’m not reading your mind all the time,” she teased. “It’s just that I’ve never met anyone like you.” She pointed at the two youths laying out the pipes. “You’ve made Saul and Ibrahim work together and you’re working while keeping Pup and Rabbit amused.” Her smile widened into a broad, excited grin. “I find your world fascinating. Your cities are so big compared to ours and you went to the Moon! Your Britannia is twice the size of ours and Heofland was full of people not ghosts – but thanks to Schimrian, all Gaia is like Heofland now…”
“I wish you wouldn’t read my mind,” he said angrily. “It’s bad enough me agreeing to lead these kids on a suicide mission without you rummaging through my miserable excuse for a life.”
“You are truly an unusual man,” she sighed. “You have a mind full of equations, machines and art but you have a heart and compassion that I can never equal for all that I love my Ferals and my sisters of the craft. I am ashamed to admit that I have never experienced the love you once felt for your wife nor the bitter pain in your heart from the loss of your child…”
He sat down heavily on the cab step and wiped his oily hands with a rag. “Please, Fern, let me have some privacy,” he begged. “I have just learnt to love these children as a father and now you and Mother Moss want me to sacrifice them in an assault on the Great Abbey. Yes, I know these kids are good fighters and Mother Moss spent years preparing them for this but I’m no general – I’m just a technician; a humble fixer of broken things.”
“You are far more than you know, Light-Father,” she said, her face suddenly grim. “This is why Moss chose you. Pup and Rabbit up there are no longer afraid; Saul and Ibrahim are no longer rivals but brothers-in-arms; Mouse has been saved…”
“Uh-huh,” he nodded, trying to change the subject. “How is Mouse? Is she sleeping?”
“Yes, she’s doing well,” Fern nodded gravely. “I also gave Shield a sleeping-draught as she wanted to help but she hasn’t recovered her full strength yet. Look over there - Amos and Surl are working with Fria and Peter on preparing and cleaning all their weapons and drying out the spare clothes. Do they look like helpless children to you? You cured Amos of a terrible affliction, Light-Father - you allowed light to finally enter his heart and dispel the darkness that was devouring him body and soul. Ah, he is actually holding Fria’s hands and now Surl…”
“Has shoved them apart!” he laughed. “It’s good to see some normal sibling jealousy from them. Ah, and now Surl is making eyes at Peter and trying to hug him - the poor boy can’t run fast enough. I really must make that hand for him…”
“You must realise by now that the only hope for the future of this entire world lies in these children and you.”
“You say there’s no alternative but I don’t want to lose any of them,” he protested. “Why can’t I just find them a safe place and let this Order build their damned Jerusalem?”
“There is no safe place for them!” Fern said angrily, startling the children playing on the cab roof so that four frightened faces peered down over the edge at them. She drew a deep breath and forced a reassuring smile onto her face. “These children have faith in their Mother Moss and so should we. She loved these children enough to sacrifice her own life to protect them so do you think for one second she would let them all perish in a hopeless cause?”
“No, but we’re facing hundreds of Brothers, Tally-men, rotor-craft, weapons and those begiullers.”
“Her power of foresight was without equal in all the history of the Motherhood,” Fern pointed out.
“I have misgivings in my heart too but we have no choice – the only thing we can do to survive is to attack the Great Abbey itself.”
“Yes, I know this,” he admitted wearily. “Whoa! Bas!” he exclaimed, his heart missing a beat as the cat-girl leapt from girder to girder. “What the hell are you doing up there? You’ll fall!”
“You must be joking, Light-Father,” Fierce laughed as she joined them. “Now watch Ibrahim throw that rope up to her.”
“They are intriguing children,” Fern noted sadly. “Genetically engineered by their own parents…”
“I’ve never seen anything like them,” he agreed as Ibrahim hurled the coil of rope up to the ceiling with unbelievable force and accuracy to be caught by Bas who was now hanging upside down from a girder. “I can’t watch,” he declared as he knelt to work on the water injector. “Fierce, you can be my mate for this?”
“Mate, Light-Father?” she said, shocked. “As in… parents?”
“No, silly, a mate can mean a friend or an assistant in my world,” he explained patiently as a familiar pain lanced across his temples. “Apprentice is a better word. You hand me the tools as I work. What will you be doing, Fern?”
“I will prepare them some supper then tend to Peter’s arm and get Mouse to eat. She’s remarkable in that she’s healing faster than any child I’ve ever seen. Then I want to talk to Surl… I prefer Rebecca so why is she now insisting on Surl?”
“I’m not happy about it either,” he shrugged. “She says she is so used to being called Surl that she prefers it now. At least it’s her choice and not her brother’s anymore. She tells me that she considers Rebecca to be another child from another life.”
“Surl it shall be then,” Fern sighed. “She seems content in herself so she should be able to bear such a dark name…”
“Wait a second,” he said. “You said my Britannia was twice the size of this one. Is the geography that different here?”
Fierce ran over to where Kai was sketching and grabbed a map off the workbench, “The land all fell to the sea a long time ago,” she said on returning and displayed the map to him.
“The sun suddenly grew in strength,” Fern explained, pointing to the coastlines. “All the ice melted and the sea level rose four chains. Britannia lost a lot of land beneath the meres and its empire as well. We have since been invaded by the Franks, Finns, Russians and Austro-Germans but we’ve fought them off. All that history,” she sighed, shaking her head. “It means nothing now.”
“Then we’ll make our own history,” Fierce declared. “We’ll make the Order come to an end, Light-Father.” She looked resolute as she stared at him but she suddenly dissolved into tears. “But I’m scared. I know the spirit of Mother Moss is looking after us but she told me that… wait!” she cried. She drew her sword in a blur of motion. “There’s someone in the foreman’s office and I know it’s not one of us. We have a spy!”
She sprinted off at an astonishing speed towards the foreman’s office but it was at the far western end of the cavernous shed. A shadowy figure emerged from the office and vanished through the side door before she could reach him. Bas was also leaping from girder to girder above her head but she too was unable to get to the door in time to catch the intruder.
“It must have been that Father Bucheort or some Tally-man!” Fierce yelled, flinging open the door but nothing could be seen outside, even with the flashes of lightning, as the rain and hail were falling with relentless monsoon ferocity.
Harold gaped as Bas calmly dropped from the girders to land nimbly next to Fierce. She knelt to sniff at the door frame. “I smell Tally-man,” she declared. “Electrics - the rain is frying his Guides and there’s blood even with rain as heavy as this. This Tally-man was soaked in blood, Light-Father. It may even be David.”
“It might be him,” Harold conceded. “But whoever it is was fast on his feet. I think there’s no point tracking him in this rain even if we know he’s probably going to Druid’s Lane.”
“What was he after?” Fern demanded. “There’s only my bag and your devices on the desk in there. If it was a scout, what would they gain by searching our belongings?”
“Maybe they want information on me,” he suggested.
“Is anything missing?” Fierce said as the others arrived. “You’d better check your tools and your utility belt.”
“They’re back there,” Harold said. “All that’s here are spare clothes I got from the lockers and some electronic equipment that I didn’t need to work on the Phoenix.”
Fern quickly checked her shoulder-bag and shrugged. “My staff was moved but none of my medicinal potions were taken.”
Harold rummaged through his collection of computer chips – each of which would have been worth a fortune had this world not been destroyed. “Three specialised computer chips are gone,” he said, fear gnawing at his heart. “Who the hell in this world could possibly know what they are?”
“What’s so special about these ‘chips’?” Fern asked. “What are these ‘chips’ anyway? Splinters of wood with circuitry upon them? They sound complex and very technical.”
“They are. Computers in my world got smaller and more powerful until whole computers could fit on a silicon wafer or chip no bigger than your smallest fingernail,” Harold explained, holding one up for her to inspect. “Each of these is a powerful computer but the ones that were stolen were prototypes for the next revolution in computing. Instead of screens and keyboards, they could be used to transmit data directly into the human brain and vice versa.”
“Blessed Jesus,” Saul gasped, his eyes widening. “Where would the human end and the machine begin?”
“A lot of people in my world are asking that question,” Harold agreed. “The three chips were coated with enzymes that encourage neurones to regenerate and grow into them. They were being used in tests to restore full limb sensation and motor control to paralysed people. Imagine if you snapped or damaged your spinal cord – these chips could be inserted to act as neural bridges.”
“You’ve made Jesus-machines,” Amos said in awe. “You’re getting the paralysed to pick up their beds and walk!”
“That’s the idea,” Harold nodded. “But who in this world would know what they are and how to use them?”
“The Great Computer would know,” Kai said after some thought. “It designed the Guides but they’re crude and seriously scar what’s left of the brain tissue over time - which is why Tally-men are such soulless puppets.”
“So what would a self-aware computer want with chips that are designed to connect to neural tissue on a molecular level?” Harold wondered. “I can’t think of a single use for them in a world with this level of technology. The Great Computer may have a super-advanced core but it still interfaces with basic equipment.”
“Maybe it could use these chips to make a generation of smarter and more efficient Tally-men?” Kai suggested. “They would not require so much lobotomising for a start.”
“No, Kai, they would never produce Tally-men who could think for themselves,” Saul retorted. “Schimrian would regard them as a threat. Whatever they’re planning to do with this technology, Light-Father, I know in my soul that we won’t like it.”
Harold stared at the door. “Me neither,” he said.
Bas bared her pointed teeth at them in frustration. “So why are we standing here like pillars of salt?" she hissed. "As soon as this storm passes, they’ll be coming for us!”
(c) Paul D.E. Mitchell 2012 - 2013 All copyrights protected.
Archived comments for Chapter 25: Intruder
Mikeverdi on 12-07-2016
Chapter 25: Intruder
Thanks for another enthralling episode 😀
Thanks, Mike.... action starts picking up with the rest of the Tale of the Three Sisters next!