Σάββατο, 1 Ιουνίου 2019

The Final Night

Published in Issue 1, Volume 10 of Schlock! Magazine 

There must have been thousands standing in the rain that day. The skies had split open and the tears of the gods were pouring down on the patient earth with such volume as it had never been seen before. The water soaked our bodies and ran down our brows, to our eyes. We shivered, the thousands of us, but we stood and we held hands, as we watched the great hollow war-bird land.
It screeched like the predators of the rocky planes, spitting fire from its sides, gliding through the air. My eye caught the brief outlines of faces and bodies, as they stood packed behind the war-bird’s transparent skull.
With a jolt, the war-bird touched down on the muddy ground, the flames quenched. For long moments it stood still, as if counting our numbers, weighing our mettle against its own ferocity. Across the One-Mind, one of us was praying. Unbeknownst to me, I found myself praying too.
With a whirring noise, the war-bird opened its beak and disgorged its occupants, the way schwirm-floaters do, upon finding prey, spilling out acidic fluids over their victim. We heard their boots clang down on the war-bird’s beak and saw them march into formation, light-spitters at hand. In unison, we shivered and felt great anticipation across the One-Mind, our hated enemies standing before us at last, vastly outnumbered. We picked up on their fear and we silently rejoiced.
It was a while before the Most Important Human Among Them left the war-bird’s belly, clothed in regal form-fitting clothing, his form gaunt and tall. The One-Mind tasted his contempt and we fought back against the rising tide of anger among us. They were in our hearth now and they would be defenseless against us, should they dare threaten us.
The Most Important Human walked steadily, reaching the One-Father, leader to our tribe and father to us all. He clicked his heels and saluted, the tips of his fingers touching the rim of his cap, palm extended outward to show that he was without weapons. The irony of this motion, in contrast to the armed men in armor behind him was not lost to us.
“Satrap Donovan Ben-Azal Al’Quar, representing the PanHuman Empire.”
The One-Father nodded his head in assent, blinking the top set of his eyes and responding in kind:
“One-Father Juk’kul, representing the Tribe. You are here to negotiate the release of the August D’ross, given power by Imperial Command?”
“That is correct. You are to release Brigadier August D’ross immediately.”
“And in return…?”
“In return, I will guarantee that you, your tribe or your land will not suffer the effects of the standard procedure according to Protocol 5-B relating to xenomorphic races openly attacking an Imperial troop carrier ship and taking an officer hostage.”
There was a short pause among us in the One-Mind, as we leafed through the sum of our knowledge. Of our people, many had suffered under Imperial yoke and had some knowledge of its workings. It took us two beats of a heart to find what Protocol 5-B stood for. The Satrap that called himself Donovan Ben-Huir, as if somehow picking up on what we knew, smiled and said:
“If you return the hostage immediately, then I will make sure my people do not rain fire upon your bald grey heads and then land here so they can pick off what is left of you. I am your only friend in this, One-Father and I am willing to give you every chance to get out of this little mess you got yourselves into…alive.”
There was poisonous, fierce joy in his words. There were thoughts spiked with venom and a desperate need for us to deny him his request, so he could slaughter the Last Free Men of Nudai. My warrior-brothers however reassured me: they would gladly die and be burned. They would gladly risk having their ashes scattered in the Nothing-Outside-The-World, instead of living as slaves and stripping the planet that birthed them under Imperial rule.
The One-Father crossed his lower arms and said: “Will you then listen to us, friend? Will you heed our words and consider them, even? We will not ask for much or even for things beyond your Empire’s reach. You will have your August D’ross back, in exchange for a flick of the Empire’s tiniest finger.”
“I give you no guarantee.” the satrap said. There was the faintest motion on the fabric of his clothes, noticed by one of the Scout-brothers, so small that it barely registered.
“We ask that the Telekill field that is set around the border of our land is lifted, that we may once again speak to our brethren. Not for long, though. Only for the interval of five minutes, that we may re-establish contact and find our lost kin that is in your domain.”
“It cannot be done. I can, however, provide you with a list of the kin you seek and tell you what you wish to know.”
To deny us even this tiny request? To tear down our dream of uniting with the World-Dream? They came here and they cut us off from the Nudai! They tore our One-Mind into shreds, wounding our brains and now they will not even give us a drop of balm? We thought in unison. The outrage among us was growing. But the One-Father, with a gentle thought, calmed our turbulent minds.
“Then tell me, Satrap. What of Qui’Koom, chief of the Shadow Mountain Tribe?”
With a strange motion of his hand, the satrap called forth a ghost image of Nudai, its suns and moons (daughters and sons of the All-Father, first and foremost of all living things) orbiting our sweet home in perfect harmony. But the rolling hills had been paved with asphalt and plasteel that poisoned the sweet red grass and the mountains had been ground down to plains by terrible machines that screamed like flocks of death-birds. The ghost-image spun, flickered and then finally stopped to a shore near a circle sea, the waters now a murky black where the engines of the Empire had regurgitated their deadly cargo.
Those among us of the Shadow Mountain beat their chests and sang a mourning ululation, lamenting the marvels that their leader could have performed, rattling their glass bracelets in their hands.
“Of B’ruk then? He was head Seer of the Dimmed Eyes.”
Again the screen flickered and spun and this time it stopped over a place that was once the forest of the Baobab, home to the Verdant Sages. What it had now become, I dared not even think of it. The dirges of the Dimmed Eye tribesmen among us told me enough.
“Look for Oogmotsi; she was mother to a hundred warriors.”
On and on the list went and on and on the ghost-image of the nightmare of Nudai flickered and spun, each revolution bringing only news of death and the mind-cries of the survivors, as their last glimmers of hope died down and were swept away. And all this time the rain did pour on us and mixed with our tears, as if the gods could no longer hold back their grief at the news of the slaughter.
Wearied and nearly broken, the One-Father at last asked:
“What became of the Mau’ruk? They were a clan of a few hundred, but they were artists and poets. We would wish to reach them and hear one of their songs, if only for a moment, to ease our grieving Mind.”
The Satrap smiled then, a great wicked grin. Something terrible formed inside his thoughts and projected into our mind, gangrenous and sickly. He said, each word dripping sickly sweet malice:
At the sound of those words, a rage of such magnitude as one that had never before risen through the One-Mind rose up; bile and curses that had never been spoken formed and danced across our minds. Our other brethren had perished, but their collective thought had descended again into Nudai and would one day be reborn; but to be Mind torn, to live life with a brain shattered into a million pieces, this was punishment unfitting to even a human.
The One-Father fell to his knees then, but quickly regained his composure. He set his lower limbs onto his knees as he crossed his legs and hid his eyes with his higher limbs. He wept not, even as we all mourned the final loss of the brightest among us. He stood in silence for a long while, until the Satrap said:
“Any other requests that you would like to make?”
“Yes” answered the One-Father and there was malice in his voice and murder in his thought, eager to lash out against the minds of the gathered humans and drive them mad before killing them. “We would wish that the Empire would perish, its ships fall into distant suns, its people killed by fire and light and violence of great ferocity. We your world to be crushed into powder by a million guns, held by the people that you enslaved and killed and had their minds taken from them. We wish every child that was born today to live a slave and die in a pit and every last trace of you expunged from the Universe. We wish that by the time this is done, not even the memory of humanity remains.”
The light-spitter was in the Satrap’s hand before we even knew it, as if it had materialized from nothing. In the time of a thought, there was only a great hissing sound and then the thump of the One-Father’s body, as it fell lifeless into the mud.
“Request denied.” The Satrap said.
And inside our minds, there was a crashing and a roiling that tore us apart. As our collective power shattered and turned back on us, we fell on the ground and reeled, holding our heads with all our limbs, screaming like children at the first sight of the sun.
I barely held myself together, so I could pick up a rock and toss it at the war-bird as it began to ascend, before I too lost consciousness. When I woke there was only grieving and the sound of jumbled thoughts inside my head.
Fire came from the sky by nightfall. It scoured the Lost Valley and decimated our tribe. But we hid inside deep caves and waited, until the sky ceased spitting flame. We stayed in the dark and the cold as we saw the hated humans, clad in their precious armor, wielding their terrible weapons while they searched for us through the ashes and then we struck from afar, killing them all.
And when the next day they retaliated with more fire and with killing gas, we hid deeper and we fought on, reaching into their brains and destroying them. For every one we killed, they killed a hundred, yet in the end it was us who celebrated victories and sang songs inside the bowels of Nudai, instead of them.
Now we hide and we fight and they drive us deeper. And across the One-Mind, I feel my brethren worrying, thinking of the possibility of running out of ‘down’ for us to go to, of places for us to hide. Our places of refuge will soon run out. I know that we will die fighting.
It is not much of a life, but it is better than what we had.

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