"It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and
goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting
person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw
it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror
and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a
nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other
to one or other of these destinations."
C. S. Lewis
Prologue: The Last Thing Debra Saw
Debra Sterling ran all the way up
the concrete steps through the silent forest. She emerged from the
trees at the top of the hill, crossed the gravel road and stopped.
Panting, she held her sides with both arms and scanned the carnage
before her. It would have been more natural to see the sun and moon
snatched out of the sky. Her church was flattened like something
gargantuan squashed it. She even checked the horizon for a
mountain-sized behemoth but nothing was there. The sky was clearing
and the late afternoon sun shined down on dozens of mutilated
transgenic corpses spread out before what had been the front
entrance to her church.
She caught her breath and kept going. As she ran past a medusa's severed
head, one of the six cobras that looked like rope-hair reared up to bite
her. Debra leapt away from the poison fangs then gingerly dodged around
the other hacked-up creatures. She climbed into the rubble of the church
and made her way to the spot that filled her heart with foreboding.
Debra tore at the debris, lifted then tossed aside a huge support beam.
She found her parents dead under the bits and pieces behind the crushed
"No, no, no," she whispered, caressing her parents' broken bodies with
her splinter-pierced hands.
The trees behind the church parking lot were green with summer and the
hazy air should have been full of the droning of cicadas but only
silence and stillness surrounded her. As Debra climbed back out of the
rubble she wondered if this was the reward for her faithfulness. How
could this horrific day be the day of deliverance? Dropping to her
knees, she put her bleeding hands together but instead of praying broke
"I'm alone, oh God, I'm alone. Lord please, take me too!" She shouted
out into the silence over and over and when she lost her voice she
screamed it inside her head. After just a little more time the sobbing
subsided. Something rose up from under her crushed spirit. After all,
she had been shown this was going to happen.
The hymn "It is Well with My Soul" came to her and Debra
stood up. The eighteen-year-old girl still felt emptiness smashing down
on her but managed to walk over to the ruins of the tool shed to find a
shovel. A massive winged shadow passed over and she looked up. The
giant, owl-shaped silhouette with a whiplash tail three times the body
length flew down at her. She hit the ground, the transgenic piasa bird
swooped past, intentionally missing her, and she got up running for the
tree line behind the parking lot. Halfway across the open ground the
flying monster swooped down again, knocking her off her feet with a bump
from one of the great wings. She got up running as fast as she could and
made it into the woods.
Debra ran stooping through a thicket. Big
branches snapped off the tops of trees above her as the monster flew
over. Frantically she searched for a place to hide. She spotted a
secluded tunnel of underbrush made by a small animal and crawled into
it. Curling up with her face pressing down on the ground, she covered
her head with her arms. A hideous groan came two seconds later as the
Great Pecan Tree crashed down right next to her hiding spot. She got up
and ran again.
Debra kept under the trees as long as she
could but finally was forced out into the open ground behind the
lighthouse cliff. It's almost over now, she told herself. As she ran
across the short distance of open ground, the piasa bird gave an
infrasonic scream so powerful it vibrated her sternum, stunning her. She
collided into the cool bricks on the shaded side of the abandoned
lighthouse and slumped down. She wanted to crawl around to the entrance
but couldn't move. The transgenic monster landed almost on top of her.
Its heavy breathing filled up the dusk.
Debra's adrenaline rush was over. Soaking with
sweat, hands throbbing in pain from the big splinters, chiggers itching
across the skin of her arms, she rolled over to face the eight-foot-tall
beast that was part human, part owl, part stag, and part who-knows-what.
"Deb-ra," the piasa bird spoke slowly with
grotesque lips that should have been a beak.
"You're never going to get what you want!" she
yelled at the antlered, feathered monstrosity even as calm descended on
her. She knew who it was now and felt sorry for it.
Out of nowhere Jimmy Owens appeared holding a hatchet above his head.
Had he been inside the lighthouse? The overweight, freckled-face
teenager yelled, "Leave her alone!" then threw the hatchet into the
The hatchet blade flipped into one of the
dinner-plate-sized eyes. The monster screeched like a jack-knifing
semi-truck. The long tail lashed out as precisely as a giant's bullwhip,
snapping into Jimmy's chest and knocking him off the edge of the cliff.
"No! Jimmy!" Debra heard an ear-splitting sonic
boom then felt herself rising off the ground. Someone called her name, a
strong and beautiful voice, not the transgenic piasa bird monster, and
she fell up into the sky. The stars seemed different and a slow-motion
lightning filled the eastern horizon. Across the river above the bluffs
hovered unidentifiable transgenic creatures with condor wingspans the
size of small airplanes. Tumbling far above them, she got control of her
hands and pushed her mid-length blond hair away from her eyes.
The last thing Debra saw looking down at the
twilight earth was some kind of bizarre giant wading up the Mississippi
River. She felt pity for all the people remaining. In the most
infinitesimal split-second her living body transformed. Debra ceased to
merely feel; she became a fountain brimming over with profound and
reverent joy, her peaceful face glowing like a lightning bolt inside a
cloud as she ascended out of the universe.
I. Debra at
the Lighthouse Eleven Weeks Earlier
"Someone's at the lighthouse already, Jimmy," Debra Sterling said as she
led her five teenage friends up the path from their church. This Sunday
morning the forest was raucous with birdsong even though the trees were
just starting to bud. Violets and other early spring wildflowers still
covered the damp ground.
Jimmy Owens didn't ask how Debra knew someone was already there because
she could see things nobody else could. He hugged the portable sound
system and hurried past her. He rounded the last bend in the trail, past
the Great Pecan Tree, and stopped in the clearing behind the old brick
lighthouse on the edge of a steep cliff facing the Mississippi River.
"Tyler!" Jimmy's face broke out in a huge
smile. "How'd you get up here so quick?"
Tyler Pandav stood there in jogging sweats not Sunday clothes. His
walnut brown face and hands glistened with sweat from his run up the
steep hill to get here. He greeted Jimmy and then everyone else as they
strolled out into the clearing behind the small lighthouse.
"Why didn't you go to church this morning?" Debra asked with a stern
look. Tyler's Indian Christian Church was three miles away in the little
town of Riverton.
"Got some big news," Tyler said. "Heard it on
the radio this morning."
"We better sit down for this," Davy-Jake Diamond said. He and
Lydia Machado were holding hands and the couple sat down together at the
Jimmy, still cradling the portable sound
system, sat down next to Davy-Jake. This news, Jimmy figured, was going
to be important. He was all ears.
"Has Secretary-General Sebastiao come back?" Rick Machado sat down on
the tree stump. Auburn-haired Kim Lemon stood behind him. Jimmy could
tell Kim wasn't happy.
"Nope, it isn't that." Tyler sat down on the
remnant of a brick wall that once ringed the lighthouse.
Jimmy watched Kim walk away from Rick. She went over to the log and sat
down next to Lydia. Debra just stood there in her favorite floral print
Sunday dress, holding her guitar and facing Tyler. Jimmy felt static in
the air. It seemed any moment someone was going to yell at someone.
Jimmy hated it when people yelled at each other.
"We need to pray and sing first," Debra said. Her features softened a
little. "We'll raise our voices to heaven and then we'll hear the news,
okay?" They always started this way, but Tyler usually arrived after
they were already listening to gospel music from the underground
Christian radio station.
Debra recited the Lord's Prayer. Jimmy said,
"Amen" the loudest. Debra began softly playing her guitar. She sang two
current gospel songs alone then asked them to all to sing "Amazing
Grace" with her. After the last refrain Debra ceased strumming her
perfectly tuned guitar. She nodded to Tyler and he stood up clearing his
"Yeah, um, they said on the Global Radio
News that a big group of multibillionaires is going to sponsor anybody
that wants to get enhanced." Tyler paused and then went on in a stronger
voice. "Not only people disfigured in a bad accident but anyone who
wants to become something special."
"How could they afford to do cosmetic
enhancements for everybody?" asked Lydia.
"It must have something to do with Secretary-General Sebastiao's New
Prosperity," Rick said.
"Could you get changed into anything you want?" asked Kim.
All three spoke at the same time. Tyler put his hands up. It took a
minute before everyone calmed down. Jimmy shook his head. He didn't
really understand what they were talking about but he didn't want them
"What does Reverend Mandal say about massive injections of animal
stem-cell DNA changing the architecture of a human body?" Debra asked
"He doesn't like it, any more than your father likes it."
"But you're thinking about it, aren't you?"
"Deb, I'm thinking about it because it's the only chance I've got to
make a professional team. This year enhanced people are running faster
than ostriches. The only reason our soccer team got into the regional
championship is because nobody can afford to get enhanced here like they
do in the Pacific Rim. I have to think about my future. I don't want to
change what I look like, just maximize my speed and agility."
"Trade in your humanity for that?" Debra looked angry at and sorry for
Tyler at the same time. Jimmy had never seen her look that way before.
"They say it causes big personality shifts," Lydia said.
"It's a long, painful eight-month process," Davy-Jake added.
"God created man in his image," Debra said. "Think of the honor for us.
People always coveted the power of animals. They used to worship statues
of human-animal combinations. Those false gods were all over the ancient
world. But He came in our form. That has to mean something to us."
"I'm ready to listen to some music!" Jimmy stood up. He didn't want
someone to say something that would hurt someone else's feelings. This
was supposed to be the best day of the week.
The others chimed in to agree. Debra leaned her
guitar upright against the brick wall then finally sat down next to
Jimmy unfolded the portable sound system. It
looked like a notebook computer. He plugged it into the ground and into
the log, pointing the tiny dish antenna to the south. He turned it on
and found the station. The device turned the log and the ground into
In a second a deep, pulsating electronic music rose up through their
feet. The station broadcast Christian music from somewhere to the south.
The station was called Christian X and was illegal on the public
airwaves but the authorities had not bothered to jam it.
Jimmy was overcome with the music of the first song. He got up and
danced in jerky movements, singing along, almost in tune, with the
singer who rap-sang about Jesus in the wilderness.
"Yeah, Jimmy," Lydia sang out.
"Jimmy's a song-and-dance man!" Davy-Jake started clapping his hands.
* * *
Rick Machado sat back and observed. Here was a person illegally allowed
to be born, singing and dancing to illegally broadcast music. Jimmy must
be one in a million. He sure was the only one of his kind in Moreau
County. Still, there was no reason to idealize him. Jimmy could be
annoying like no one else. He often burst into fits of rage, sometimes
out of frustration at not understanding something, but more often for no
reason at all. But Rick was used to him. Jimmy was just another human
being trying to get through this confusing life.
When the first song ended, Jimmy turned to Debra and begged her to
"No, Jimmy. I don't feel like it yet." But Debra said the title of the
next song right before it came on. She did it for the next song and the
next and the next and the next.
When she first started doing that in front of
them five years ago it had astonished Rick. The astonishment had worn
off some but still this was the only uncanny thing he had ever
experienced, and she did it over and over again. He asked her one time
if she heard a voice. "No," she had replied. "It's just a feeling with
information, like knowing what an echo is going to sound like."
Rick was beginning to have some mechanistic-universe doubts. Did Debra
really have the gift of prophecy from the Holy Spirit or did she just
have some ultra-rare genes that formed her special brain so she could do
that? Either way, he knew Debra Sterling was one in ten billion.
Out on the Mississippi River sailboats and pleasure boats cruised up and
down the winding highway of bronze water. The clear blue sky shined high
above the lighthouse but across the river a strong wind sculpted white
clouds over the hardwood forest covering the enormous bluffs. A big
bird, probably a vulture, soared over the near bank downriver.
Rick daydreamed about meeting his absent father somewhere beyond dull,
staid Moreau County. The roaming gambler had left the family the day
before Rick's younger sister Lydia was born, when Rick was a little over
one year old. The man had never written a letter or called in over
seventeen years. His mother Sara believed his father was dead but Rick
believed he was still alive.
Rick needed a ticket out to find him. The
economy in this part of the North American Free Trade Realm was getting
a little better but the money supply was still tight because of the
reparations the citizens of the former United States had to pay to the
rest of the world. No bank would loan money to a kid for extended travel
unless he was already rich. He had a plan, but it would mean giving up
going to church and pretty much everything else in Moreau County. Right
now that didn't seem like much of a sacrifice to Rick.
Jimmy kept it up; he was tireless. Maybe it takes an outlaw existence to
really have joy in this life. Jimmy sang and danced like he was getting
away with something. Did the Christian doctor who falsified Jimmy's
mother's amniocentesis report have that kind of joy too?
It suddenly came to Rick that Jimmy would no longer have to accept his
fate. If what Tyler said about the multibillionaires sponsoring cosmetic
gene therapy was true, Jimmy could certainly get a "normal" IQ with
human stem cells for free. It was the non-human stem cells that turned
you into a "terato." But to get into a university law school, which was
an important part of Rick's secret plan, would require a major nervous
system overhaul because of the enhanced competition. On the net-cast
center at school he learned that they used cockroach proto-nerve stem
cells to increase thinking speed. Something to do with the thicker nerve
fibers cockroaches had made their nerve impulses faster. It made him a
little squeamish to consider it but there was no doubt those academic
elites in the Pacific Rim were far ahead of the game.
Rick watched Jimmy spinning too close to the badly eroded cliff. He was
about to say something but then noticed Kim talking close up to Tyler.
Rick smiled. It did make him a little jealous.
"Jimmy's gonna fall," Debra suddenly said quietly to Tyler. She
anticipated him tripping, but only by a second. Tyler lunged backwards
and grabbed Jimmy by the front of his belt just as his feet went off the
ground. He would have gone over the edge of the three-hundred-foot
"All right, that's enough music for Jimmy." Lydia turned off the sound
"Good stop, goalie," Rick said. Tyler smiled
and helped Jimmy get back on his feet. Rick stood up. Everyone seemed
ready to start down the path.
"Hold up," Debra said. "This is the last Sunday we'll all be together.
Before we go there's something I have to tell each of you. In private."
* * *
Lydia Machado crossed her arms and frowned. How could this be the last
time they would all be together? She watched Jimmy sheepishly brush off
the leaves and dirt from his arms. Jimmy always turned her frowns back
"What's up, Deb?" Tyler asked.
"I have to see Lydia first."
"Okay, Deb." Lydia uncrossed her arms and smoothed her purple dress. She
followed Debra through the open doorway of the empty lighthouse. There
was no stairway or ladder left inside. Somehow the floor was a dirt
floor. Over two hundred years ago this lighthouse had been an important
warning beacon for steamboat pilots trying to avoid the sandbars on this
side of the river. Now it was an empty, dark husk except for the two
young women facing each other in the shadows.
Debra took several deep breaths then began.
"The Spirit of the Lord says: You are faithful, but not as passionate
towards me as you once were. Yet it is good you still hate those
perverse acts committed by many around you. Repent and climb back up to
the lofty heights of love for me you have fallen from."
Lydia stood silent for a few seconds. This never happened before. Other
than saving Jimmy from accidents, Debra never made personal forecasts.
Something deep inside Lydia made her want to know what Debra meant.
"Is this from the Bible? Are you talking about
a passage from the Bible or is this for me personally?"
"This is for you to obey."
"All right, Deb. I'll work on loving God more."
"Don't leave, sister." Debra reached out and
held both of Lydia's hands before Lydia could move. "The next one is for
"What is it? I'll stay, don't worry."
"Oh, Lord, I can feel it hitting me even now. I don't want to see
anymore! I don't think I can stand it. Please, Lord, don't let this
"What do you see? I'm right here, Deb."
Debra squeezed Lydia's hands with a grip so tight it was painful. She
tilted her head back and began.
"The Spirit of the Lord says: Do not be afraid of the test I will give
you. Be faithful even to the point of death and you will receive the
most glorious reward!"
Debra let go of her hands. In the dim light inside the small lighthouse
Lydia could see tears shining in the blue eyes of her friend.
"It's going to be all right," Lydia said. "You're going to get a
"You don't understand. Thank you for staying with me."
Lydia walked out of the lighthouse. Everyone
had backed away. They stood in a row watching her come out. She stared
at her boyfriend Davy-Jake with her intense, olive-green eyes. He didn't
get it. He looked relieved Debra hadn't said something about the mistake
the couple had made the night of the dance last month.
"She wants Tyler to come in next." Lydia felt like her best friend Debra
just heaved a giant weight onto her shoulders. The last thing she wanted
was another burden.
* * *
Tyler walked into the lighthouse. The wind picked up from the west and
whistled through the place. They looked at each other for a few seconds.
He started to ask her what this was about but before he could she began.
"The Spirit of the Lord says: Repent! You are in league with this world,
not with me! Worship those idols no more or when I return the words from
my mouth will strike you like a long sword."
It took a few seconds for him to take it in. When he understood he
turned on his heel and jogged out of the lighthouse. He slipped on
something right outside then ran past the others without a goodbye and
kept running when they called after him.
He ran fast down the path and thought about how she was just like his
parents and just like Reverend Mandal and all the others at his church.
Nobody cared about his dreams, nobody but him.
Pastor Sterling, Debra's father, was in the
church parking lot searching for gum wrappers and other litter. The
silver-haired man gave a friendly smile. He waved but Tyler barely
returned it as he sprinted by. He ran across the gravel road and kept
running down the broken concrete steps that seemed to go endlessly
downhill. He had effortlessly run up these same steps this morning but
now had trouble putting his feet where they needed to go.
It's all a psych-out, he told himself. She's
just trying to psych me. Tyler convinced himself to believe it. He made
it to the bottom of the hill and ran through the old church cemetery
then past the small ranch house where Debra and her parents lived. He
got out onto the paved road and kept running all the way back to
* * *
"What did she tell you, Lid?" Rick asked his younger sister. She shook
her head. Rick dropped his gaze down to the ground and saw the squirming
mass of big earthworms. Hundreds of nightcrawlers covered the open
ground around the lighthouse. Last night it had rained; the damp soil
plus the vibrations from the powerful sound system must have driven them
out of the earth all at once.
"Look at the worms!" Kim almost screamed. Rick knew the way worms coiled
around each other disgusted her.
"Rick," Debra's voice called from inside the lighthouse.
Rick shifted into his toughest stance. This was getting out of hand.
What did she say to Tyler? He wanted to know. This was freaking
Across the river storm clouds, dark as soot,
were blowing in from the west. Rick walked over the squirming mass. The
earthworms covered his most expensive dress shoes, some smashed bloody
from Tyler running over them. Weird that worm blood was red, looked like
human blood. He tried to ignore it and slipped twice.
He entered the dark lighthouse with an angry
face. Debra stared at him like no one ever had before. Rick always
thought Debra's face was radiantly beautiful but he wasn't interested in
dating her and he knew Davy-Jake wasn't interested either. They both
agreed she was too detached, like she was just passing through. But
right now her blue eyes focused on him in an unnerving way. Before he
could speak she began.
"The Spirit of the Lord says: You cannot combine worship of the world
and worship of the Lord! Do not listen to the teaching of the wicked
woman who will seek you out or you will suffer agony. Then you will know
I am He who fathoms the depths of the mind and the heart."
The wind keened through the lighthouse as he went out the doorway. He
turned to look out across the river and saw lightning then heard
thunder. The few boats left struggled to get through the whitecaps and
back to the safety of the marina a mile upriver. All around them tree
limbs violently shimmied with the blowing wind. He wanted to get this
done and get everybody out of here.
"No, I don't want to go in there! I don't want
to step on those things!" Kim backed away from him like someone afraid
of terrible news.
Rick walked up to her, picked her up and
carried her to the lighthouse doorway. He let her down but she
hesitated. Still sunshine on this side of the river but the gusting wind
moving tree branches made strange fluid shadows inside the lighthouse.
Kim smoothed her lime-green dress, pleading with her hazel eyes as he
backed away. She finally went inside and quietly faced Debra.
* * *
"The Spirit of the Lord says: You are spiritually dead. Awake and
repent. See the light of divine truth or my wrath will stealthily
descend upon you and you will not perceive it until it is too late."
Kim marched out of the lighthouse with a
confused and perturbed look. She tip-toed through the ankle-deep
nightcrawlers to Jimmy and told him he was next. The wind died down
momentarily but the wall of rain and dust was moving fast into the
"Rick, take me home." Kim couldn't believe this. This had to be the most
humiliating thing she had ever gone through. It was all Rick's fault; he
should never have made her go in there to listen to that psycho-girl.
"I will as soon as she's done." Rick didn't
even look at her when he answered. He just stared out at the river with
that gone-away look again.
* * *
It was like night was falling at noon. Rick hoped they could all get
out of here before a tornado hit. The wind was picking up again. He
saw an intense lightning bolt strike the river and it blinded him
for a few seconds. A giant thunderclap shook the ground like an
"You have Mom's car keys?" Rick called out to his sister Lydia.
"Yeah, she went with Dan. They went to
Percy's." She tossed the car keys to Rick. "You want to go with us to
meet Mom and Dan at Percy's?" Lydia shouted above the din. "Dan said he
would buy lunch for everybody."
"Rick, I want to go home now." Kim sounded ready to cry.
"What did she say to you?" Rick cocked his head close to her face so the
others would not hear her answer.
"I don't know. It didn't make any sense. I think she's gone schizoid.
She's hearing voices that are telling her what to say."
"Go on inside, Jimmy." Davy-Jake noticed Jimmy
fidgeting beside the lighthouse, looking like a badly frightened little
kid. "Go on now. We have to get going. It's just Debra in there. She's
gonna talk to you, give you some advice; that's all."
* * *
Jimmy entered the darkness and Debra immediately began.
"The Spirit of the Lord says: While your strength against your sin is
small, your faith is great. All who have humiliated you I will humble
before you and command them to say out loud that my love for you is the
greatest. Because of your patience in the trials of this life I will
also keep you from the final terrors."
Jimmy had never been afraid of Debra. Unlike the other kids she had
never tried to hurt or make fun of him. Now she was talking about final
terrors. It didn't sound like Debra talking at all. He didn't like the
thunderstorm and was scared Debra was turning into someone else. Jimmy
wanted to go home right now too.
* * *
As soon as Jimmy stepped out, Davy-Jake strode up to the lighthouse. DJ
Diamond the second highest scorer on the varsity basketball team. He
stopped and patted Jimmy on the back. He threw down the sassafras twig
he had been chewing on and straightened out his tie. His six-foot
seven-inches ducked through the doorway into the blackness inside.
"Debra Sterling, if you would have soothsaid a worm ranch was going to
be conjured up right here today, I could have brought my fishing buckets
and a couple cans of coffee grounds." Another gigantic thunderclap
exploded and lightning flashed inside the lighthouse illuminating
Debra's face for a split second. Davy-Jake thought he heard his name in
the thunder and a chill went up his spine.
"The Spirit of the Lord says: You do not oppose the truth, but you do
not support it either! You are self-sufficient in this evil world but a
dependent baby in knowledge of the Spirit. Redeem yourself by attaining
knowledge of the truth in the fiery trials I will send to you."
The storm hit. It was hail, not rain, big hail that quickly covered the
ground. Davy-Jake carried Debra out of the lighthouse. He moved fast to
the trail and Lydia ran up next to him.
"She fainted!" He yelled so Lydia could hear. Lydia put his jacket over
her and Debra's heads but Davy-Jake was just too tall and got clobbered
by the huge hail. It was like being hit by dozens of fists.
* * *
Rick ran with Kim under his suit jacket. Jimmy was right behind them.
Everything looked sinister, suddenly seemed like unexplored territory
even though they had all been coming up here for after-church walks
since he was old enough to remember.
As they ran past it, Rick hoped the ancient, one-hundred-fifty-foot-tall
tree known as the Great Pecan Tree wouldn't topple down on top of them.
People said that tree must be over 600 years old. Rick figured it
wouldn't stay standing many more storms, if it made it through this one.
They ran into Pastor Sterling halfway down the trail. He led the six
teenagers back into their warm, dry church. When the pheasant-egg-sized
hail changed to sleet, Rick and Kim left in his mother's car.
"What exactly did she say to you?" Rick steered the car carefully down
the slippery and steep winding road from the church.
"She said I was 'spiritually dead.' What exactly did she say to
"She said I can't worship this world and God at the same time." Rick
kept his eyes on the road. They made it to the paved road but conditions
were still bad so he concentrated on driving and didn't say anything for
"Listen, I'm sorry I've been distracted lately," he finally said.
"It's okay. I guess I'm a nag. So what do you think? Is she crazy?"
"Debra is a person with an amazing mind. But people with amazing mental
abilities can have amazing mental breakdowns. Maybe there's something to
what she's saying. We have to keep an open mind. And you're not a nag."
By the time he drove the car up into the long driveway in front of her
family's almost-mansion the sky was clearing. He stopped to let Kim out
at the front walk. She opened her car door before he could say anything
but then turned and wrapped her arms around his back and kissed him on
the lips. They necked for a minute as she ran her slender fingers
through his wavy black hair. She got out of the car and ran up the walk
to the steps leading to the big front door.
Rick watched her go inside then drove on home. Before he went inside his
modest house he took off his shoes and socks, walked through the wet
backyard barefoot to toss his worm-guts-stained shoes into the dumpster.
It was sunny and warm again.
* * *
"Boy that was a hoot." Lydia was sitting between Jimmy and Davy-Jake in
the cab of Davy-Jake's old pickup truck. She held a big chunk of hail
ice wrapped in a rag up against Davy-Jake's knot-swollen head as he
navigated the pickup down the slippery, winding church road.
"Thanks for letting us use your giant hail ice,
Jimmy." Lydia patted Jimmy on the shoulder with her other hand. Jimmy
had picked up the softball-sized hail from the lawn in front of the
church as they hurried inside. It melted down to baseball size before
they left so he no longer wanted to save it in his mom's freezer chest.
Lydia had to suppress a smile when he complained that now he wouldn't
become famous showing people the iceberg that fell from the sky.
"Are ya hungry, Jimmy?" Davy-Jake asked. Jimmy was always hungry of
course so he forgot about the giant hail and quit pouting. Davy-Jake
turned left to get onto the paved road and headed for Percy's Catfish
Restaurant which was two miles past Riverton on the county road running
next to the Mississippi. "Yeah, darling, that was a hoot. I just hope
Debra's all right."
"That wasn't good she didn't remember talking to us inside the
lighthouse," Lydia said.
"No, it's not good," Davy-Jake said. "It's also
not good that some people left all horn-mad at what Deb had to say to
'em. I'm afraid some friendships were lost tonight. I mean today. Seems
"Why did everybody get so upset? What she said
to me wasn't that bad." Lydia still felt the weight of an invisible
burden. How could she explain it? The words Debra had said to her were
not that bad.
"Remember she told us this was the last time we'd all be together? When
she spoke to me privately she said I was going to go through some 'fiery
trials.' I guess the others didn't care to hear that kind of soothsaying
coming from her. The thing about our Debra is she has a lot of real nice
features, but one feature that can go either way is she's never wrong
when she says something is going to happen. And everybody knows she's
never wrong when she says something's going to happen. It's like having
to stand there still when somebody's aiming an arrow at your chest."
"What do you think it means?" Lydia felt weighed down and desperately
wanted to understand Debra.
"I don't have a clue," Davy-Jake answered.
"Well, we shouldn't act like this." Lydia
frowned. "Our Christian faith says we're supposed to love each other."
"I hear ya. Sometimes it looks like we're just as bad as the rest of the
world, teratos included."
"Debra's going to be all right." Jimmy was
ready to start talking again. "Everything's going to be all right."
II. Final Exams
Later that Sunday evening the dark clouds returned. Wayne Browner
parked his maroon sports car in the driveway of one of his family's
many houses in Bluff City. Today was his birthday. Earlier he had
been celebrating out on the Mississippi River in a big pleasure boat
with sixteen of his high school friends. They had been drinking
homemade wine and he knew he reeked of it.
The hailstorm forced them back to the marina
but that didn't stop the partying. Wayne and the other revelers kept
at it inside the private clubhouse at the marina all afternoon.
Right when he picked out a suitably intoxicated girl, the man
everyone thought of as his father sent an encrypted text message
ordering him to report to this house immediately.
The house was located in the largest town in Moreau County. Bluff City
was an old river town, the county seat, and the man who summoned him had
recently been appointed the chairman of the county board.
Wayne entered the house quietly. He had to stay on guard around this
man. The two-hundred-year-old house was just used as a business office
now. The rotund man with the shaved head and big sideburns did not look
up from his desk when Wayne creaked the door shut.
"I trust the boat and four jet skis were adequate for your needs," Dean
"Yes, they were," Wayne said without a smile.
"The river was a little cold but everybody had a good time."
Dean's intense blue eyes flashed up at Wayne. He finally finished
signing the papers he was working on and glared up at the young man. The
house stood silent for a moment. Dean never played music or participated
in or viewed holographic net-cast entertainment. He stayed up late every
night working or hatching schemes. After Dean's recent trip to the new
E.U. capitol of Lisbon, Portugal, Wayne observed that the man never
seemed to go to sleep.
"It's your birthday," Dean said. "Almost nineteen years ago I risked an
extended prison sentence so that you could be born."
"What do you mean?" Wayne asked.
"First, what have you accomplished?" Dean asked. "You know who we
worship and what we believe."
"Yes, I know," Wayne said. "We worship the ruler of this universe. He is
the all-powerful Angel of Celestial Light."
"And what have I taught you to believe?"
"That a force from outside this universe is
fighting against us. Someday this force will be defeated and we will
rule the lesser people." Wayne made sure he recited this correctly.
"What will the lesser people be then?" Dean asked.
"Our slaves and our sport," Wayne answered.
"That day is almost here, right at the doorstep, and what have you
done?" Dean gave a sneer. "You get straight A's and play on a basketball
team with Christians."
"Davy-Jake and the others know better than to mess with me." Wayne stood
stiff like a soldier at attention.
Dean leaned forward and glowered up at Wayne, contempt in his eyes.
"Davy-Jake Diamond is a Christian who should be
terrified to the point of paralysis at the thought of your presence.
Your ineffectual attempts at even bullying those pathetic creatures make
me want to send you to another fate. You don't deserve the power I am
about to give you."
"I've been working on a plan with the teacher,"
Wayne said. "I know a lot of their weaknesses now."
"Then it's almost too late to act. Three weeks until graduation." Dean
rose from his dark green leather desk chair and went to the bookcase. He
took five books from a lower shelf and there was a safe. Dean opened it.
Inside was a box of surgical gloves. He put on a pair then tossed the
box to Wayne.
As Wayne put on the surgical gloves, he watched Dean pull out a spiral
notebook from the back of the safe. It was thick and had a faded red
cover that was torn and stained.
"Eighty-eight years ago there were two brothers who lived in this town,
in this very house. One, Nick Browner, was my grandfather. The other
brother's name was Leonard Wayne Browner.
"These two teenage brothers ruled this community and they believed as I
have taught you. They used many illegal substances referred to as
'psychedelic' back then and one particular combination of those drugs
caused Leonard, the eldest, to begin writing in this notebook. He
continued writing for more than a week straight, without sleep.
"When he completed what he had to write, he obtained a handgun then went
to the high school and executed two Christian students and one teacher
who tried to intervene. He would have accomplished more but was shot in
the head by a bushwhacking sheriff's deputy named Frank Diamond.
"Read this now. It is preparation for your real
final exam. You watched the news this morning. The bait has been set
out. Very soon now the world will be transformed."
Wayne sat down on the dark green business office couch and read through
the yellowed pages of the Notebook. When he came to the end he looked up
with reverence at Dean.
"So the blood saved in the freezer was used?"
Wayne asked. "The blood that became me was kept frozen by our family all
these years because of this prediction in the Notebook?"
"Yes," Dean said. "You are the exact twin of a Browner born over one
hundred years ago. Now come with me."
Wayne followed Dean up the creaking staircase to a room on the second
floor. He had never come up here before. He felt a voice whispering
something to him but nothing was there. Dean opened the door to a
bedroom furnished with late twentieth century antiques.
"This was his room," Dean said. "Except to
clean, nothing has been touched in here in eighty-eight years."
Wayne entered the bedroom and gazed up at the posters of heavy metal
bands. Depraved-looking men with long, blow-dried hair and outlandish
leather costumes stared back at him. It wasn't played anymore but Wayne
knew the legends about heavy metal music. There was a bed and in the
corner an antique stereo system with a pair of huge box-like speakers
and a turntable. A plastic milk crate contained record albums with gaudy
artwork covers. They seemed familiar even though he had never seen a
vinyl disc before.
"Spend some time here. You're back home. But heed what I told you
earlier. It stands. And another thing, I had your dogs taken up to
Chicago. It's still illegal for now, but humans are not the only ones
that can get enhanced."
Wayne smiled in front of Dean for the first time in his life.
* * *
The alarm rang and Rick Machado dragged himself out of bed. Lydia was up
already so he had to wait to get into the bathroom. Christian families
didn't have holographic netcast centers so he turned on the kitchen
radio. His mother, Sara Larson, came in. She looked sleepy but
"Why didn't you sit with us at church
yesterday?" she asked.
"There wasn't room," he said. "I had to sit with Kim. Can
I use your bathroom? Lydia's in there shaving her legs or something."
"Why didn't you come over to Percy's? Dan and I
had a big announcement and you never showed up." She followed him into
her master bedroom.
"I'm out, I'm out." Lydia came out of the
main bathroom, her luxurious sable hair thoroughly brushed.
"Did Dan propose again?" Rick asked his mother.
"Yes, he did," Sara said. "The only
reason, which you know very well, that we're not married right now is
the way you acted when he proposed the first time."
"I was eleven, but it was all my fault," he
"Dan has been a father to you as long as you can remember. When we're
not dating you two get along great. I don't understand why you don't
want me to be happy."
Rick was at the main bathroom door again.
Lydia, wearing her solar system print pajamas, stood at their small
kitchen table. She stared at him as she poured her favorite cereal into
"You're going to do whatever you want to do.
Why are you putting your happiness on me when what I think isn't even
considered?" He went in and shut the door.
"We're a family!" He heard his mother's raised
voice through the door. "That's what families do. We're supposed to put
our happiness on each other. You're eighteen now, what's wrong with
* * *
The new day was bright and cold. As their mother drove them to school,
Lydia talked about how funny Davy-Jake was and bragged about his heroic
actions during their escape from the hailstorm.
"Remember at Percy's when you asked how many
bumps he had on his head, and he said, 'Before or after the hail hit
me?' It was a hoot." Lydia started chuckling.
"Why do you have to say that?" Rick asked.
"Say what?" Lydia asked.
"'Hoot'. You're starting to talk like him."
"Don't you start with me, boy. I'll hit you so hard you'll wake up next
week and think it's last month."
"Stop it, you two!" Sara shouted. "I've had
enough this morning."
When they got to the high school in Bluff City ten miles later, Lydia
was still fuming. She had a temper and was a tough physical fighter,
Rick knew from experience. Even worse she was a stubborn verbal
brawler and this perceived insult could fester for days.
"I'm sorry, Mom, Lydia. Forgive me, all right?
Both your guys are great. I don't know what to think about graduation, I
guess. A lot of changes are coming up all at once."
"Listen, Ricky, honey, whatever you do, promise
me you won't even think about putting that animal DNA into your body.
"I'm not going to do anything freaky, Mom. You
He got out of the car into the fresh spring morning. It was starting to
warm up. The high school had tulip trees in bloom in front of the campus
and the scents from the white flowers greeted him as he walked by. Lydia
should be over it by lunch, he figured. If not then it was her problem.
It was day number 583, the digital display read under the life-sized
statue of Secretary-General Alfonso Fernando Nogueira Sebastiao, the
leader beloved around the world. Sebastiao and his U.N. administration
instituted the treaties and international law that were said to have
brought two decades of peace as well as the Global Guaranteed Minimum
Wage that ended hunger, but not quite poverty yet, in the former Third
The heroic statue stood thirty feet in front of the high school office.
The school administration had erected the space-manufactured metal-alloy
statue barely a week after Sebastiao's last public speech in which he
had promised that a transforming event would take place when he
"Everything else the human race has accomplished will be just a dock for
the launching of our bold new ship of limitless human potential."
Sebastiao's words were inscribed at the base of the statue.
Speculation concerning Sebastiao's
disappearance swirled around the globe. Would the great leader return
with a new limitless energy source or a plan for space colonization?
Would he announce that there had been contact with space aliens? Maybe a
medical breakthrough that would end aging and death? Rumor of a new
economic system, "The New Prosperity" that would make everyone on earth
wealthy, was probably the most discussed. Did this constellation of E.U.
multi-billionaires suddenly offering to sponsor millions of citizens to
become transgenic have something to do with it?
Rick stood in front of the statue thinking about it. Out of the corner
of his eye he noticed Debra Sterling kneeling over something under a big
oak tree about forty feet away. He looked up into the branches of newly
emerging leaves and saw that yesterday's storm had blown apart a
squirrel's nest. Debra was kneeling over and talking to a dead baby
squirrel. He heard her now. She was telling this dead dumb
animal that it and all of nature were going to be reborn and given
voices to praise God someday. He knew she wasn't an
anthropomorphizing nutcase but it sure must look like it to everyone
else. The stark contrast between pipe-dreaming Christians like her
and the undeniable accomplishments of the man this statue represented
could not be more apparent.
Now it was even worse. Five of the Scary Clown Club overheard her as
they walked by. He knew all five of them, muscle-bound Doug Strapman,
Mike Pitcher, Marsha Harris, Cassie Brosh, and smart-mouthed little
Lenny Davis. Mike, Lenny, and Marsha sat behind him in his first-hour
international law class. About one-third of the seven hundred students
in the Moreau County high school were Christians and about one-third
were openly hostile to Christians. The S.C.C. was the clique most openly
antagonistic to people of faith and the five stopped to laugh and jeer
Rick steeled himself to intervene but then Lydia walked up beside Debra.
All five S.C.C. lowered their voices and started walking. Lydia really
is something, he thought as he walked on past the statue. People were
awed by her unique beauty and her moxie. And she was a loving person. He
knew she was a loving sister who would face down anything to protect him
or their mother or anyone else she loved. He liked Davy-Jake, they used
to be best friends, but he felt she deserved better. Of course she was a
long way from getting married. She was only seventeen. It wouldn't last,
After home room he walked into his first hour class and sat down at his
desk in the front. This was his favorite class. He used to like art, was
talented with an old-fashioned paint brush. He had won first place at
the county fair art show two years ago but now he was into international
law. Both the subject matter and the teacher were the best. The three
S.C.C. came in and sat down at their desks behind him. They were still
giggling about Debra but kept it down so he ignored it.
Angela Starr strolled in and sat down on the front of her teacher's
desk. She faced the class with a bottle of drinking water in one hand
and her wall-screen remote in the other. She started right in with a
presentation that summarized the entire semester, reviewing for the
practice final exam she would give them the second half of the hour.
Rick couldn't help it, he stared at her. She
was a dazzling, mature beauty to him. She was twenty-six, had glossy
blond hair that fell in waves to the middle of her back, keen bronze
eyes, and a white smile with just a hint of mischievousness. Of course
her lavender dress suit was form-fitting, but not too revealing. There
was no ring on her left hand.
"Mr. Machado, would you please summarize for
the class the history of human transgenic experience and the resulting
development of the bioethical law that regulates this phenomena."
Rick was caught off guard. She picked him too
quickly this morning. From behind he heard Cassie whisper, "Mr.
Machado." Lenny was already snickering.
"Sure," Rick finally got out. "The first real example of successful
transgenic manipulation of established human genomes happened
twenty-eight years ago in Asia and Africa. Those areas were in the midst
of the second AIDS pandemic. There was a new wave of
drug-resistant HIV viruses and the world health community was desperate.
Researchers used a controversial new gene therapy technique to convert
two hundred patients' immune systems from human genome to a
human-mandrill baboon transgenic genome. The volunteer patients were men
and women who felt they had nothing to lose."
"Tell us what happened to those patients." Angela stood right in front
of his desk.
"About ninety percent died of tumors that formed rapidly and some died
of AIDS before their new immune systems could kick in."
"'Kick in.' I like that, Rick. But what about the rest?"
"Nine were successful," he said. "Six in Thailand and three in South
Africa. Their new immune systems defeated the virus. But the local
people in their villages believed they had been cursed or bewitched and
all nine were publicly murdered."
"Community intolerance," Angela said. "One of
the most important ethical justifications for creating the legal
designation of Protected Group Status. Tell us the rest, Rick."
"Well, later the same year the transgenic patients were murdered, new
anti-viral, small-molecule drugs came online so the emergency transgenic
research was ended. Then, sixteen years ago at the summer Olympic Games,
investigators for the Olympic committee discovered that athletes from
the Pacific Rim were not completely human, or their genomes were not
completely human to be more accurate. The games were cancelled and the
nine other free-trade realms banned transgenic manipulations of their
citizens. But the Pacific Rim held out for legalizing what they called
'enhancements' and it went to the World Court. The decision finally came
down two years ago giving transgenic persons full civil rights and
Protected Group Status."
"What does the word 'terato' mean, Rick?"
Rick was caught off guard again. To even say that word was a class-1
ethics violation. He guessed that for teaching purposes she could get
away with it.
"It means a degenerate who chooses to be turned
into a freak of nature."
"Words are powerful, class," Angela said. "Terato originally meant
'wonder' and is used in the word teratology, which is the study of
malformations of embryos. That scientific term has been transformed into
a welding torch of hate aimed at transgenic persons. Some words are more
subtle but equally damaging. Saying 'manipulations' instead of the
correct word 'enhancement' is a good example. I'm not picking on you,
Rick. You did a great job and I think this was a fantastic lesson for
the class." She started walking back and forth across the front of the
classroom. Her voice became more and more passionate.
"We need to keep in mind that we are going
through the most exciting time in the history of human evolution. Some
parts of this community are openly opposed to this evolutionary leap.
They will come up with tragic anecdotes or maybe even statistics
designed to strike fear in their fellow citizens about, let's say what
this is about: the liberation of humanity from our inherited genes. This
genetic inheritance is a prison for the human race, just like class,
race, gender, and sexual orientation were shackles previous generations
had to fight to remove. And just like those other struggles the road to
empowerment can be messy. You may very well see some choose frightening
morphologies in order to gain this empowerment. It's the healthy thing
to do. You can compare it to the weird haircuts, body piercing, and
militant rhetoric previous counter-cultures employed."
Ms. Starr stopped and gazed at the class. She looked at Rick with an
extra sparkle in her eyes as she asked if anyone had any questions.
Everyone seemed awed into silence so she passed out the practice final
exam. Before she left the classroom for the teacher's lounge, she leaned
down and put her arm around Rick's shoulders. She spoke closely into his
ear. "I'd like to talk to you about something very important after
school this afternoon."
"Okay." He tried hard to sound nonchalant.
She left them to their practice final exam.
Rick was on cloud nine taking the test but then overheard Lenny and
Cassie making obscene comments about his sister and Davy-Jake and his
number 2 pencil broke.
* * *
During lunch Rick avoided the table with Lydia and Davy-Jake and
Debra. He couldn't find Kim but then noticed the back of a familiar
head at one of the two-seat tables tucked away in an alcove.
"Are you going to bolt if I have a seat, Pandav?" Rick asked.
Tyler smiled and gestured for him to sit. Rick
sat down and started eating his chicken tacos. Tyler stared at him. He
waited for Rick to ask but he kept eating.
"You're the first one I've talked to since last night, and you're going
to be the first I apologize to for my rudeness," Tyler finally said.
"You mean yester-day," Rick corrected him. "Everybody talks like
it happened last night but it was the middle of the day."
"That's funny, huh?" Tyler's ebony eyes became serious. "Did Deb talk to
"She did," Rick said.
"Did anyone else run?" Tyler asked.
"Not until the hail."
"You're not going to ask me what she said to make me take off?" Tyler
gave an exasperated look.
"No, I'm going to ask you to pass the ketchup," Rick said. "Okay, it's
true. I'm dying with curiosity. What did she say?"
"It wasn't what she said." Tyler leaned forward. "I'll tell everyone
what she told me but I'll only confess this to you. I am in love with
that girl. She might as well be a million kilometers away but I love
"Oh," Rick managed to say after he stopped chewing and swallowed.
"My parents are strict evangelical Christians,
as you know, but they are also traditionalist when it comes to whom I
should marry, especially my mother. The forms of torture she would
inflict on me if I brought home a blondie have always made me curious.
Would she start with electroshock? Perhaps a little flailing? Finish
with bastinado of the feet, or the fingernails pulled out one by one?"
Tyler got a mock pondering look on his face.
Rick laughed and had to stop eating to keep from choking. He took a sip
of his chocolate milk and leaned back to recover.
"You're thinking about doing it, aren't you?"
"Doing what?" Rick suddenly looked guilty.
"You know what I mean, get enhanced."
"It's crossed my mind." Rick shrugged. "But like you I wouldn't want to
change my morphology. I'm thinking about trying to get into a
university, maybe go for a law degree."
"It's evil, pure evil, just like they say."
Tyler started eating again.
"You think God cares if we get new genes from animals?" Rick stared at
Tyler to emphasize his logic.
"God does not want us to put anything before Him," Tyler said. "He is
very possessive, in His holy way. But He lets us choose. And for us it
is the worst time of life to be given this choice. Children and older
people at least like what they are or are comfortable with what they've
become. At our age we hate what we are. We want to be all-powerful but
we feel helpless. I'm telling you, this is the mark of the Beast."
"Revelation?" Rick scoffed when he said the
word. "This bio-tech stuff has been going on for decades. The mark of
the Beast is an end-times prophecy. It has to do with tattooing people
on the forehead with a code number as a requirement to participate in
the economy. This isn't that."
"We don't know where this is going or what is really going on behind the
scenes right now," Tyler said. "These laws that you admire so much are
not coming from a democracy accountable to the people."
"History proves elections are always corrupted by big money." Rick
shrugged again. "Besides, if you think it's evil why are you considering
"Maybe I am evil," Tyler said. "The Holy Spirit, through Debra, warned
me if I didn't stop worshipping idols God was going to come after me
with a sword. So what do I do? I run back home, go to my room and pick
up a book about Pele, the greatest soccer superstar of the twentieth
century. You've seen my room. It was full of posters of athletes until
this morning. When I woke up the Global Radio News reported they've
enhanced people to grow wings and fly. Fly under their own power!"
"That's incredible," Rick said. "I hadn't heard that."
"And giants!" Tyler said. "You can become a giant of up to five metric
tons! Team sports are finished. How can you have professional games that
would allow all these, these beasts to participate! So I tore down all
my posters. I didn't repent having them; I just tore them down because
now they're obsolete. I'm a worthless, disrespectful son who fantasizes
about a blond prophetess all night. God is going to be coming for me
with a sword so I might as well go become a giant that stomps around and
gets attention while I can."
"Maybe you just need a vacation," Rick said and
the bell rang. Tyler got up and thumped Rick playfully on the back of
the head. They took their trays to the conveyer belt and Rick went to
his next class.
* * *
Ms. Peacock liked owls. Photographs and small statues of owls and
other large birds decorated her classroom. But it was the huge
poster of the "piasa bird" that gave Debra Sterling the creeps. The
image of the winged, antlered monster had been taken from a
mysterious painting the French explorers discovered on a cliff
overlooking the Mississippi River. Debra sat at her desk and tried
to think about higher things as this late-thirties woman with lank
brunette hair lectured about the end of fiction.
"This class is called language arts," Ms. Peacock said to start the
class this afternoon. "A century ago you would have been required
to take 'English literature'. Why the change? The answer is simple. Six
decades ago the human race began rejecting the static concept of fiction
as they began embracing interactive art. Video games and then the rise
of reality television were the beginnings of this cultural rejection of
scripted plots that reeked of pretension. In their egotism those old
writers believed they had something to teach us. Now we take it for
granted that we are free to act out the truth of our inner selves in the
entertainment and mythic stories that we ourselves create. This class
was designed to give you the language tools most useful to these ends. I
hope I have succeeded.
"I want to have some class participation now. Deb-ra, we would like to
hear about your assignment to take part in the interactive holographic
netcast of 'Leda and the Swan'. You were assigned to be Leda, record
your spontaneous interactions, and then take the part of the Swan and do
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but I didn't complete the assignment." Debra fidgeted
in her seat and looked away from Ms. Peacock.
"Why not?" Ms. Peacock looked personally hurt,
her over-sized lips pouted. "What were you doing when I sent you to the
holographic netcast center?"
"It's against my religion to play-act in a story about a giant swan that
rapes a young girl," Debra said. "So when we were at the netcast center
I read my Bible instead."
"That's an ethical violation. Mentioning that book in this classroom is
a class-2 ethics violation." Ms. Peacock looked like a boxer who had
taken a hard punch but was coming back swinging.
"It's a class-2 ethics violation to not tell a teacher the truth, ma'am,
and you asked me." Debra looked the teacher in the eye.
"That doesn't give you the right to insult me and pollute this classroom
by mentioning that out-of-date, ridiculous, historically inaccurate, and
contradictory assemblage." Ms. Peacock's furious face flushed a deep
"Ma'am, it's the only up-to-date interactive
source of truth we have. Everything else is dated the second it's
uploaded onto the net."
Ms. Peacock went to her desk and got out a
write-up slip. She sent Debra to the dean's office with a class-1 ethics
violation accusing her of undermining a teacher's authority in a
classroom. That afternoon Debra was expelled from high school with less
than three weeks to go before graduation.
* * *
Rick walked into the international law
classroom after school. Angela Starr gave him a big smile. She was
sitting on her desk but next to the desk in her chair sat Wayne Browner.
The principal of the high school, Mr. Woodruff, sat by himself in a
student's desk halfway across the classroom.
Wayne locked eyes with Rick. Rick nodded a
greeting but Wayne kept the eye contact too long and didn't nod back.
Wayne was lean in a muscular way and his angular but handsome face
showed layers of experience of things Rick could not imagine. Davy-Jake
used to play on the basketball team with this guy but had always
despised him. It had something to do with an old family feud. Rick never
had a confrontation with Wayne but it was well known that he was the
leader of the Scary Clown Club. Rick didn't trust him.
"I'm so glad you came, Rick," Angela said.
"What's this about?" Rick tried to act uninterested. "My mom and sister
are waiting for me in the parking lot. I have to get going."
"Rick, the reason I wanted you to stop by is that I am requesting your
participation in a very special committee that will meet here at the
auditorium this Saturday at two o'clock. I'm inviting you and Wayne to
be the student representatives."
"What's this committee's purpose?" Rick
couldn't help staring at her.
"It's an advisory group that will assist the
general public in the cultural transition that's coming," Wayne
answered. "Transgenic persons will be commonplace in just a few short
"We know there is likely to be fierce
resistance from the Christian community and we want to do what we can to
make this transition violence free." Angela went on. "I know you are a
Christian, Rick, even though you've been very strict in adhering to the
anti-proselytizing ethic codes here at school. I respect your devotion
to the law."
"Well, I appreciate that but I'm afraid I can't participate," Rick said.
"I'll probably be helping to organize a demonstration against this
Angela looked puzzled and Wayne suddenly looked
hostile. He had never really disengaged his aggressive eye contact and
now Rick returned it.
"You've never acted like this before." Angela looked hurt.
"My friend was never expelled before," Rick said. "The only other
student expulsion since I've been attending this school was Henry Moore.
He committed violent assaults on teachers and students for two years
before they got around to kicking him out. My friend was just trying to
defend herself from a teacher's harassment."
Angela still looked puzzled and hurt. She turned to the silent principal
and asked him to explain the reason for the expulsion. The man cleared
his throat several times before he answered.
"That Christian girl was being disruptive in Carla Peacock's classroom,"
Mr. Woodruff said. "I can't afford a sanction from the teacher's union."
"Carla Peacock..." Angela managed to suppress a
laugh but a quick smile flashed out and then she went back to serious.
"Something can be done about this, right?"
Mr. Woodruff the principal cleared his throat one more time. He promised
that Debra Sterling would be reinstated tomorrow morning. He would call
the girl's parents himself. Debra would get a C in Peacock's class
without having to attend it the rest of the school year or take the
"You see, Rick?" Angela said. "When basic reason is adhered to
reasonable outcomes can occur. Please tell me you'll come to the
"I don't have a ride," Rick said after a pause.
"My mom works double shifts on Saturday and she takes the car."
"Rick, give me your cell phone number and
directions to your house and I'll pick you up myself." Angela slipped
off the desk.
"Okay," Rick said after a shorter pause. He walked over to her face to
face to give her the information. She told him with a gleam in her eye
that she didn't need to write it down. He turned to go.
"Can I get Tyler Pandav's cell phone number?" Wayne asked out of the
blue. "I'd like to give him a surprise call to congratulate him on that
great championship game, even though we lost in the end. He really is a
"I don't give out my friends' cell phone numbers," Rick said. "Just
congratulate him when you see him tomorrow."
"He sticks pretty close to the other Indian Christians, and with you,"
Wayne said. "I guess it's a comfort-zone thing."
"Well, maybe you should step out of your
comfort zone," Rick said.
"Wayne, this isn't necessary," Angela said.
"Rick has to get going."
"It's cool," Wayne said.
* * *
Right after Rick left, Angela told Principal Woodruff, "You may go now."
When he left the classroom the real meeting began.
"You really are inexperienced when it comes to the basics of real-world
intelligence operations," she said. "You should have known if I have his
cell phone number then we can get any number he's called."
"I'm not sure you can deal with him," Wayne said. "Christians don't
react like normal people."
"You leave him to me. Don't concern yourself with my end. You just make
sure you and your friends don't blow it when it is time to act. If you
manage to botch this mission there will be severe consequences, I
* * *
When Rick got into the front passenger's seat of the car, his mother
complained she was going to be late for work because of him. The
afternoon sun slashed down through the windows. Rick just squinted
and smiled as he buckled his seat belt.
"I've got good news about Debra," he said. "I helped get her reinstated.
She can come back tomorrow."
"Since when do you have clout in that place?" Sara asked.
"There's a teacher, one of my teachers, a
friend of mine now, who helped me get her reinstated." Rick kept
smiling. "She invited me to a special committee meeting this Saturday at
two. She's going to come over to pick me up."
"You're supposed to go with Kim into Saint Louis on Saturday." Lydia's
left eyebrow arched upward. "It's going to be her birthday next month
and she's wants to pick some things out so you can choose what to get
"I'll have to postpone that," Rick said. "Hey, Mom, have you ever heard
someone use the word 'cool' for something other than temperature?"
"What do you mean?" Sara asked. "Bad or good?
Back in the urbano days anything good we used to call suave."
"Just now I heard Wayne Browner say, 'It's
cool,'" Rick said. "I've never heard anyone use the word "cool" in the
context I think he was."
"'Cool.' Sounds like something my grandmother would have said." Sara
gave a nostalgic smile.
"What was that Browner creep doing in there?" Lydia asked.
"I don't know." Rick replied.
III. Bad Henry Cracking Up
When Henry Moore was six years old he earned the nickname Bad Henry.
Henry had bullied other kids ever since he could walk but one autumn day
he became notorious in Moreau County when his first grade class took a
field trip to the Bluff City Riverside Park to celebrate United Nations
Day. The park stood on the Mississippi riverfront and Henry's class
lined the road to watch a small parade go by. Costumed people walking on
giant stilts and then ten floats representing the ten free-trade realms
rolled past as U.N. representatives handed out U.N. flags to all the
After the parade Henry started acting up on the big sliding board
ladder. The tall lanky kid above him named Davy-Jake Diamond was
climbing up too slowly so Henry grabbed the back of his belt and pulled
him off. The kid hit the ground hard and broke his left arm. Henry slid
down smiling as the kid lay there wailing.
When he got to the bottom a tattletale kid
named Ricky Machado was jumping up and down yelling at the backs of the
grown-ups circled around Davy-Jake. "Henry did it! Henry did it!"
Henry was only six years old but was big enough to be a third-grader. He
walked over to the kid, spun him around, and jammed the pointed end of
his U.N. flag pole into the kid's hollering mouth. Blood gushed out of
Ricky's mouth and Henry ran away. He knew the grown-ups would stop him
and he wanted to find another victim before it was too late. Hurting
something was the only thing that made him feel calm.
Next he tried to tackle the skinny brown kid
named Tyler but that kid was fast. He tore out across the green grass,
weaving between the big cottonwood trees until he was out of sight. It
would take the grown-ups over an hour to find him.
Frustrated, Henry snuck back to the playground and ducked under a
play-bridge. Under there a little blond girl with big blue eyes
named Debra Sterling held a magnifying glass in one hand and something
green in the other.
"Surprise," Henry said.
"Look it this, Henry. It's like a tiny little forest of Christmas
trees." She handed him the magnifying glass and a clump of moss. He took
them before he could think up anything mean to do. He looked at the moss
under the magnifying glass. It did look like a miniature forest of pine
"Little people are living in the forest," he thought he heard Debra say
and he was hooked.
When they dragged him out from under the
play-bridge he was still looking for the little people in the moss with
the magnifying glass. The grown-ups yanked at him and yelled at him to
say he was sorry to Ricky standing before him red-eyed holding a gauze
pad under the roof of his mouth. But they couldn't get Bad Henry to say
he was sorry or get the magnifying glass or the moss out of his hands.
* * *
Bad Henry held a stick of home-made dynamite as he waded through the
marsh water. All around under the shallow water carp were spawning.
He lit the fuse and threw it too close behind Doug Strapman. Doug
cursed as the explosion blew dirty water and pieces of fish onto his
back. Bad Henry laughed. He was wearing his third-favorite tee
shirt, the one that read "Cruel & Unusual" on the front.
It was early Friday evening. Doug and Mike
Pitcher had driven out here to Bad Henry's house after school. The
ugly three-room house stood on stilts in the marsh water. Henry had
to rent this dump in the middle of nowhere from Dean Browner because
no one else, not even his mother, would let him live with them.
* * *
Mike Pitcher had wisely stayed out of the water. He watched the dust
cloud moving towards them up dirt road. The sun painted glowing red
edges on the white clouds in the western horizon as Wayne's sleek maroon
sports car pulled up behind the shabby-looking camper and the big dark
green sedan. The other two waded out of the water. Doug was still
screaming obscenities at Bad Henry. Mike spoke quietly to him to calm
him down until Wayne told them all to come up to the road.
"He's moving. Let's get going." Wayne wore dark clothes and expensive
leather gloves. He led them to the four-door sedan. They all got in. In
the morning Dean Browner would report that the car had been stolen from
his used car lot.
Wayne drove off calmly as an acrid smoke wafted
through the air and dead carp floated on the surface of the marsh water.
Mike thought about what he saw chained up inside the back room of the
stilt-house. He could still hear Wayne's two transgenic weredogs
growling and scratching at the floor with big clawed hands. The
explosion had riled them up. One howled now in an unearthly human-canine
combination and then the other joined in loud enough that Mike thought
the stilt-house would collapse into the marsh.
* * *
Debra was reading her Bible when she knew a call from Tyler was
coming in. It was Friday night so most of the Christian kids her age
were out on dates to the Ice Cream Shack in Riverton or to the
one-hundred-and-nineteen-year-old drive-in restaurant called Cosmo's
in Bluff City. They would all cruise around the town square in Bluff
City for an hour or two and then go park on the top of the bluff
next to the museum to gaze out at the lights of the town and the
boat lights out on the Mississippi. They would do a little smooching
and then the boys would get their dates home before eleven o'clock.
But nobody ever asked Debra Sterling to go. She knew she was pretty.
She figured they were all chicken because she was a pastor's
daughter. It never occurred to her that her well-known powers of
divination gave just about all her potential suitors the
heebie-jeebies. So she was surprised Tyler's cell phone number would
be on her cell phone screen in just a second.
"Hi, Tyler," she answered.
"Hi, Deb. I'm on the Rush ferry. I borrowed my mom's car. She thought I
was going to pick up Nasarine."
"Why did you lie to them, Tyler?" she asked.
After a short silence Tyler spoke again.
"Deb, the truth is I was running away. I was going to Saint Louis to get
"Why, Tyler?" she asked. "Why would even think
about doing that?"
"I'm not happy with my life, Deb. My dreams have all crashed to the
ground. Nasarine is a nice Christian girl but it's too contrived. It's
the next thing to an arranged marriage.
"Listen, Deb, I'm not going. What you said to me outside
and inside the lighthouse last Sunday is the truth."
"Praise God," she said. "Oh, praise God,
"Deb, please pray with me now," Tyler said. "I
want this curse of idols and enhanced power out of my life forever."
Debra and Tyler prayed together over their cell phones. Then he asked
her to meet him at the Ice Cream Shack in Riverton so they could talk
"I have to tell you something right now, Debra," Tyler said. "I know
it's late but I have to talk to you face to face."
"Okay, I'll be there in fifteen minutes," she
"We're pulling up to the dock now," he said.
"I'm the only vehicle on the ferry so it should only take me fifteen or
twenty minutes at the most to get there."
She hung up and started getting ready. She told her parents she was
going to meet Tyler at the Ice Cream Shack. Her parents smiled at each
other as her father handed her his car keys.
"We knew something was going to happen before you did," her mother said.
"What are you talking about?" Debra put her hands on her hips. Her
mother didn't answer. Debra ran back into her room to see if she had
forgotten anything. Her cell phone rang again but she was too distracted
to know who it was before she answered.
"Hi?" she asked.
"Deb, it's me again," Tyler said. "Hey, I must have been speeding.
There's a cop car coming up fast behind me with his lights on. I know
it's me he's after so I'm pulling over right now. I'll be a little
late." Tyler parked on the shoulder of the county road and turned off
"Tyler, that's not the police! Get out of there! Get out of the car and
run away right now!"
* * *
Tyler almost hung up. But Debra kept screaming so he kept talking to
calm her down. He turned on the tiny video camera on his cell phone and
held it outside the car window to show her the flashing light speeding
up too fast.
The big green sedan with the flashing light
swerved and plowed right into the driver's side of the compact car
shoving Tyler over to the passenger seat. He tried to get out the
passenger door but the blood dripping from his forehead into his eyes
blinded him and he moved in slow motion. He wiped the blood out of his
eyes and saw for an instant the lumberjack visage and the black tee
shirt with the white letters.
"Surprise," Bad Henry said. "You're not getting away this time."
He dragged Tyler out of the car. The three of
them took turns beating him as Wayne watched. When Tyler finally went
unconscious Bad Henry threw him into the trunk of the big four-door
sedan. Bad Henry and Mike Pitcher got back in the back seat and Doug
Strapman got back in the front passenger side. Wayne took off the
magnetic flashing light from the top of the car and then backed the big
four-door sedan up. They headed north on the county road.
* * *
Davy-Jake didn't answer right away when the secure satellite phone rang
in his basement apartment. He lay in bed with his eyes wide open
thinking about what he was going to ask Lydia tomorrow when they went
rock climbing. His mother and little brother were asleep upstairs so he
finally reached under the headboard to the phone's hiding place.
"Yeah, Uncle Dan," Davy-Jake said.
"How are you, son?" Dan Diamond asked. Dan was really Davy-Jake's
father's cousin, not his brother.
"A little restless tonight to be truthful," Davy-Jake said.
"I heard on the scanner thirty minutes ago that
they found a wrecked car belonging to the Pandavs down on County 2. Hit
and run. Someone T-boned that little car and then took off."
"Were Tyler and Nasarine in there?" Davy-Jake asked.
"Didn't find any bodies but they did find blood," Dan said. "I'm afraid
it might be a snatch."
"You don't think some drunk coming back from the Tenderloin Tower in
Saint Louis hit them?" Davy-Jake asked. "Maybe they all went in the car
that could still run to the ER in Jerseyville."
"No," Dan said. "Right before I called you I talked to Judson on his
secure phone. He's on patrol tonight on the north county roads. About an
hour ago he saw a big green sedan with one headlight smashed out and a
damaged front grill heading north on County 6. He called it in but
dispatch said to leave 'em alone."
"Sheriff Otto," Davy-Jake said.
"That's right," Dan said. "I don't know what's going on but it may be
that the same perps who murdered your daddy nine years ago are active
Davy-Jake went silent. His father's murder was
the last one in Moreau County and was unsolved. Everyone assumed the
murderer had been someone from Chicago or Saint Louis, a traffic stop
gone bad. His father, like most males in his family, was in law
enforcement. Ray Diamond had been a sergeant in the county police. Just
over nine years ago he was struck and dragged down the road one rainy
night in March. It looked like he was ambushed as he checked out an
abandoned car at the side of County Road 4; there were two sets of tire
tracks at the scene.
The worst part was the morning after the
funeral someone put his father's blood-stained cap on the family's front
porch. Davy-Jake was only nine at the time but he hurried to hide it
before his mother and toddler brother could see it. Dan Diamond knew the
murder was an internal set-up as soon as Davy-Jake showed it to him. Dan
was a lieutenant in the county police at the time but when the
detectives under sheriff Otto Galloway purposely botched the
investigation he quit the force and started running his organic farm
full time. But he quietly investigated his cousin's murder himself over
the years and was now sure who was behind it.
"You watch your back, Davy-Jake, but don't overreact," Dan said. "The
Browner people probably behind this might just want to make all the
church-going folks here look bad somehow."
"I hear you, but I'm gonna hope for the best," Davy-Jake said. "Tyler's
been working through some issues lately. He might have been at fault
somehow and just took off running like he does sometimes."
"Praying, not hoping, is the thing to do now,"
Dan said. "I'll let you get back to your restless ponderings about Lydia
"You've been taking lessons from our Debra," Davy-Jake said.
"You don't need the gift of prophecy to know what's on your mind, boy."
* * *
Forty-nine-year-old Sara Larson was one of
three nurses working the second shift at the Sunnyland Nursing Home.
Sara was in the Pharmacy by herself when she had the sudden urge to get
on her knees and pray for her two teenage children, Rick and Lydia,
It was close to 11:00 pm, the end of the second shift, but she would not
be leaving on time because a hundred-and-ten-year-old resident was dying
and she would have to stay to do the paperwork.
She got down on her knees and prayed for her children and then prayed
for her fiancé Daniel Diamond. Her man, Daniel. He had been too patient
with her over the years. He still saw her as a teenage beauty with
reddish-blond hair but the grey was coming in fast now.
They had been teenage sweethearts. Both "home schooled" at their church
together with two dozen other children, which was allowed back then in
the old United States. But when they turned fifteen the Red Counties
Rebellion hit and a strange new civil war, brother against brother,
happened all over again.
That was the year the President of the United States was turned over to
the World Court in the European Union for crimes against humanity.
Investigative reporters produced documents proving the President
approved a clandestine operation to attack the drug crops in Latin
America and Asia with genetically-engineered root-rotting fungi. The
man-made drug crop plague worked, but the once ruthless and powerful
narco-states plunged into mayhem within a month. Hundreds of thousands
lost their lives to violence and starvation and over two hundred million
were brought down into poverty. The carnage broadcasted night after
night on high-definition television, night after night of starving or
murdered innocent-looking peasant villagers.
When the Supreme Court of the United States
ordered the extradition of a sitting President and the superseding of
the U.S. Constitution with international law drafted by the U.N., the
rural "red" counties rose up in rebellion. Dan was only fifteen when he
joined the insurgency. He fought for over a year and it had looked like
the Red Counties would prevail. Just as the Red County forces were about
to march in and take the major cities, the U.N. approved a peacekeeping
intervention. Millions of troops from China, Latin America, and the E.U.
invaded both coasts. It was true that the urban half of America
supported the integration of the U.S. into the world legal system,
mostly for economic reasons. The rebellion was crushed and under the
oversight of the ultra-progressive Supreme Court what was left of the
U.S. government was merged with the Canadian system of lawlords that
rubber-stamped U.N. resolutions.
By the time Sara turned eighteen she had become
ashamed of her heritage. She renounced her faith and ran away. She
headed south to Miami, Florida, and went to work in a gambling tower on
the beach. She learned Spanish and danced in a chorus line. Strictly
speaking she never became a prostitute but she believed she might as
well have been one. She pursued most sins with relish.
After over a decade working in the towers, Esteban Machado came into her
life and she began to come back from the brink of jadedness. They moved
in together and she became pregnant with Rick. She gradually came to
want a traditional family life but the pull of the towers was too strong
for both of them, especially for Esteban. By now anything short of
murder was allowed inside those places, including designer drugs and
Sara ran away with baby Ricky to the only place
she could go back to, Moreau County, Illinois. Esteban reunited with her
there for a few weeks and that produced Lydia, but he didn't stay to see
her born. He was probably a suicide, she thought. She had not heard from
him since the day he left. Every year millions of people committed
suicide in those towers that were now all around the world. It was
rumored to be the second leading cause of death.
How could God bless me so much after all I have
done? Sara wondered. She had never quite accepted that all her sins
could be forgiven. She knew she was supposed to believe that the blood
of Jesus Christ cleanses completely.
Sara felt a deep foreboding about the coming new day. She had read and
believed the underground report circulated by the Christian churches,
the secret report written by a secular psychiatric team who evaluated
the first transgenic persons in the Pacific Rim. It documented the
withdrawal from friends and family, the narcissistic, borderline
sociopath behavior and violent outbursts. The report concluded by
stating that all of the hundreds of transgenic athletes studied "were no
longer conjoined to the collective unconscious of traditional humanity."
It was a class-1 ethics violation to distribute or even discuss that
research paper, but to millions of Christians around the world like Sara
it was clear that to get enhanced was to cut off your antenna connecting
you with the Holy Spirit, with God.
After she prepared the painkiller she went back to the room with the
dying resident. The ancient, shriveled old man was in the last
stages of dementia from a prion disease. The most common cause of
death in the world now was certainly the growing variety of incurable
nervous-system diseases caused by self-replicating proteins called
prions. Some of the residents in this facility were her age or younger
and victims of these strange afflictions. There were rumors that
the younger victims were getting the disease through promiscuous sex,
but unless you were cleared to discuss it, that again was a class-1
ethics violation. Every other communicable disease had been wiped out,
even at last the dreaded AIDS viruses, by artificial-intelligence
designed small molecule drugs. Eighteen years ago the U.N. authorities
sterilized all the wild hoofed animals and destroyed all of the hoofed
livestock in the world in an effort to end the spread of the "mad cow
and chronic wasting disease" prions. Cow milk now had to be produced by
vats of transgenic bacteria with cow genes. But the prions kept on
slowly multiplying in the environment.
I will never see those beautiful whitetail deer grazing with cows in the
misty fall mornings like I used to when I was a little girl, Sara
thought. It was so very sad. This world is getting used up fast now.
The worst part was the vivid, nightmarish hallucinations the patients
had in the final stages when the prions ate holes into their brains.
They would be paralyzed lying there in bed and if they could still speak
the images they screamed about were horrifying. She prayed for the man
and then prepared to give him the injection of painkiller. She was
certain death would be a relief for him.
Suddenly the old man screamed. She watched the man's eyeballs moving
under the eyelids. It wouldn't be long now. Then he spoke.
"That's not cool; that's not cool."
* * *
"Whew, that was hot-as-sun!" Doug shouted. They were in Wayne's car
heading south. They had just finished pushing the green sedan into a
strip mine lake two counties north of Moreau County.
"Boy, I'll be dogged if I knew someone could still be alive after losing
that much blood." Bad Henry sat next to Mike in the cramped back seat.
He was completely at ease, no hyperactive fidgeting with his black
baseball cap. He looked almost thoughtful to Mike.
"What's next?" Mike asked.
"We got to call Cassie and Marsha!" Doug shouted too loud.
"We don't have time for that." Wayne gave Doug
the evil-eye to keep him in line.
"Those two are in Saint Louis at the all-night
Lancelot Arcade." Mike wasn't in the mood anyway.
"We're going to get ready for tomorrow," Wayne
said. "We've got traces on their cell phones so we can follow them
wherever they go. I heard the ridge-runner make a date with Lead-Head to
go rock climbing at the big sink hole, so we'll be ready. Keep Lion and
Steelteeth muzzled so they don't lick Pandav's blood off, Moore."
"Check," Bad Henry said.
"Lydia, whew, she's hot-as-sun," Doug said. "I
can't believe she's a J-freak."
"What we did to Pandav tonight is just the beginning." Wayne couldn't
stop talking about the torture session. "Hey, what was that last thing
he said, Mike? You were closest to him."
"He said, 'Father, forgive them.'"
"That was weird," Doug said. "J-freaks say weird things. Whew, Lydia!"
"Shut up about her!" Wayne hollered.
"When are we going into town to do it?" Bad
Henry asked. "After you guys graduate?"
"No," Wayne said. "We'll be done by Sunday morning and then we'll drive
straight into Saint Louis to the enhancement center at Aztec Stadium."
"We're not waiting until after graduation?" Mike asked. Something inside
him wanted to rebel against this.
"There isn't going to be any graduation," Wayne said. "All that's
history. This is a revolution and when it's done we're going to run
things. When all of these Christians are slaughtered and enslaved then a
new kind of ruler is going to be in charge and it's going to be us.
Whatever we want we get."
"I know what I'm going to get changed into."
Doug's voice was starting to get back to normal.
"I wonder if I could get changed so as I could
explode and then get put back together again?" Bad Henry seemed to
be asking no one in the car.
"You mean blow yourself up like those old suicide bombers?" Mike asked.
"Yeah, blow yourself up like a bomb but then come back together or grow
back or something," Bad Henry said.
"That's not possible, Moore," Wayne said.
"You'll have to think of something else."
"Whew, Henry, you're cracking up!" Doug spoke too loudly again. "Just
like when you see the little people in the dirt!"
"I haven't seen the little people yet, but I know they're hiding in the
moss." Bad Henry's face flushed with rage and his eyes bored into the
back of Doug's head. Doug didn't look back at him again and kept quiet
the rest of the night.
IV. On the Rocks
Rick walked into the living room and saw that Lydia was almost ready to
go. He watched her put four bottles of drinking water and a packed lunch
into her backpack. Her hair was swept back in a ponytail and she wore a
comfortable but flashy outfit that made her look like a female matador.
He just kept watching as she laced up her rock-climbing shoes.
"That outfit is too nice to go rock climbing
in," he finally said.
"No, it's not. It's made of special fibers that feel like silk but won't
wear out or tear very easily."
"They make men's dress shoes?"
"Rick, did you call Kim?"
"Yeah. She didn't take any of my calls though.
Her dad said she's been sick all week."
"You're going to the meeting with that teacher
"What's it to you?"
"What do mean 'What's it to you?' I know what's
on your mind, Ricky."
"You don't know anything."
"She's too old for you, Ricky."
Rick stood facing her. He sighed and then shook his head. The whole
house became quiet and seemed to hold its breath for a second.
"You're so immature, Lydia." He put his fists
on his hips.
"I know what you're thinking."
"Is your name Lydia or Debra?"
"What did Deb say to you in the lighthouse?"
He remembered what Debra had said to him and
his face went ashen. All of sudden the fire in his belly to argue with
his sister went out.
"You had better mind what was told to you, Rick. I know it must have
something to do with this teacher."
He saw that she meant it with her whole face. He couldn't think of
anything to say back but then Davy-Jake drove his pickup into the
driveway and she went out the door.
* * *
As Davy-Jake was filling up the hydrogen fuel tank in his pickup, the
first transgenic person he had ever seen in real life stepped out of the
store and into the bright morning sunlight. The female creature was pale
with long turquoise hair, had a perfect hour-glass figure, and had eight
arms. Her face was mysteriously beautiful. She noticed Davy-Jake and
Lydia staring. All her eight arms bent up or down at the elbows and each
hand started doing an intricate Balinese-style hand dance as the face
moved sideways rhythmically like a lizard warmed by the sun. When the
octopus-lady finished the dance all eight hands paired together
gracefully and the turquoise-haired head bowed. The creature got
uncomfortably into her mid-sized car and drove away.
"Did you see what was just in this store?" the cashier, an old man, said
to Davy-Jake when he went in to pay.
"I sure did. She was a sight. Gave us a little show."
"She left a business card," the old man said. "She's a masseuse. She's
going up to the Mile-High Tower in Peoria to work."
"I would have to say Peoria's a good place for
Davy-Jake got back in his truck and started it.
Lydia asked him to keep the heat on. It was warming up fast though and
he knew she wouldn't need her jacket by noon.
"You're not thinking I need to change hair color and grow six more arms
"No, my darling, Lid. Your two hands hit hard enough."
"Did you see her face, her purple eyes?" he asked, suddenly serious.
"Yeah, it was like looking into a black hole
where a star used to be."
"By the look of her face I'd have to say, and I'm not someone who wants
to judge, but I'd have to say she looked capable of anything that
crossed her mind. Whatever sort of mind is in there now."
* * *
Davy-Jake turned onto a dirt road that ran above wooded ravines for a
little more than a mile and then parked in an open area. They were on
the backbone ridge of Moreau County. All around were blue flowers and
white flowers under oak and maple trees. The air held the scent of
healthy humus. They were only about four miles away from Daniel
Diamond's organic farm and Davy-Jake felt safe.
The giant sink hole was two hundred yards away through a patch of
saplings. They arrived at the edge of the enormous natural pit that was
nearly the size of a football field and began setting up. When they had
both strapped on their harnesses he held Lydia's rope and she repelled
down first. He secured the rope on the trunk of a small tree close to
the edge and then came on down.
"Better watch out for snakes," he said after he reached the bottom. They
almost always saw copperheads and an occasional timber rattlesnake. The
temperature was rising rapidly this morning and he was sure some would
be out basking on the hundreds of limestone ledges soon.
Lydia climbed first. It was a complicated wall of jutting rock she had
attempted many times last summer but had never quite made it. He smiled
as he belayed out her rope. He knew somehow she would make it this time
and she did. As he slacked out the rope she walked back down the rock
wall sporting a big smile. He loved to see her this way. She worried
about other people too much and it kept her from smiling.
"What?" she asked after she unhitched herself from the climbing rope.
His grey eyes were twinkling. He was holding something in his right hand
and when she came over to see what it was he kneeled down on one knee.
He put the ring in her hand and her mouth opened but no words came out.
"Davy-Jake, this is crazy," she finally said. "I just turned seventeen
in March." She was actually a February 29th leap-year baby
but this year like most years she had to celebrate her birthday in
"The good thing about it is you're getting older every day."
"Why? I mean why now? Does this have anything to do with our making a
mistake after the country-salsa dance?"
"Well, it would be nice to not have to worry about making mistakes
anymore," he said. "The real reason is I love you and I think our time
is short. ' Fiery trials,' remember?"
"No, no, we have time. They say if we stay out
of those towers we'll live another hundred years. Everything is going
good in the world. We don't have to worry about cancer or heart attacks
or wars anymore."
"I'm not so sure about that last one. But anyways I've decided on
joining the force after graduation. Old Sheriff Otto will be gone soon.
Lid, it's in my blood. I was born to protect people."
* * *
Lydia thought about his proposal as emotions whirled inside her. Every
day she was with Davy-Jake she learned something new about him and she
felt closer to him. Lately she found herself distressed to the point of
being sick if he was supposed to be with her but couldn't make it for
some reason. She felt revulsion mixed with pity for the secular girls
she knew at school. Those girls had been having sex since middle school
and the acrimony and backbiting that went on around their "group dating"
was constant. The "cuddle huddles," groups of girls openly groping each
other in the hallways at high school, sometimes blocking the girl's
restroom door, disgusted her. Even though those girls went out every
weekend to the all-night holographic arcades they just grew bitter and
Davy-Jake was tall and she liked tall guys. His face was handsome to her
and he was athletic without being a braggart. He was mature for his age
and she loved the way he would surprise her and make her laugh when she
least expected to laugh.
"You were thinking about a fire department." She tried to change the
"They don't pay anything in these rural counties. The income tax rate
plus the reparations is eighty-per-cent and we could never live
independently even if you worked too. I know you don't like the thought
of getting that call late at night, like my mom and so many of my
relations have gotten over the years, but I'm going to be honest with
you. It's what I was born to do."
"I'm not really a good person, Davy-Jake. I've got a terrible temper and
you're easy-going. I'm a clean-freak like my mom and you're going to
want to go fishing every weekend."
"I thought you liked going night fishing with
me. You know how you always like to star gaze. And have I ever run away
just because you're in a little mood?"
"My brother, what about Rick?"
"Dang it, girl, I'm not asking for your brother Rick's hand in
matrimony, I'm asking for your hand."
She laughed and then chuckled. She bent down
the short distance to his face.
"Praise God for that," she said and then kissed him on the lips. "I love
you, you crazy beanpole. Yes. The answer is yes, on one condition."
"I'll do anything, Lydia."
"We have to do this for God. I mean we have to live for God more than
for each other. We have to love God more than we love each other. That's
the only way we're going to make it a century. And I want every second
of it." She put her hands on his face and they kissed passionately.
Neither heard the camper driving up the road and then parking behind
* * *
Later after they ate their turkey salad sandwiches they started climbing
again. Davy-Jake was a natural. He could stretch around the rock
outcroppings and find handholds in awkward spaces. He came down after
hammering in the last piton-with-karabiner on the top edge of a new rock
Lydia showed him the first snake she noticed, a
small copperhead that had been born last autumn. The little snake still
had the yellow tail the juveniles twitch to lure prey. They let it go.
But now she was a little nervous to climb.
She went up the new rock wall that he had just come down from. Twice she
lost her footing and hung by the hands. He almost belayed her down but
both times she recovered and kept going up. She finally made it to the
top and peeked up through the bushes. After a second she squealed and
"Get me down, get me down."
He belayed her down quickly. She was upside down. Lydia flipped herself
upright and then unhitched the rope from her harness.
"There's a big black animal up there."
"What kind of animal?"
"It had a big muzzle. A big fluffy black animal. It was right there
looking down at me. It had bright blue eyes and was standing on
two hairy legs."
"A big fluffy animal? Was it a skunk?"
"No. I know what skunks and raccoons and all
those other little animals look like. This thing was bigger than
you and it was standing on two legs."
"Like a bear? Lydia, there aren't any bears in the wild any more."
"No, it's not a bear. I've seen bears at the
zoo. It's not a bear. This thing is bigger than you and has a big fluffy
mane like a lion."
He scanned all around the top edge of the sinkhole fifty feet above them
with his keen eyes and then walked over to his backpack. He squatted
down and unstrapped the main compartment. As he reached inside he
realized that all the birds had stopped singing.
"That thing is like a small sword." Lydia said.
"It's just a little Bowie knife, otherwise known as an Ozark toothpick."
He let her hold the heavy but perfectly balanced knife that had a
fourteen-inch black blade. It was manufactured from composite metals and
as sharp as a scalpel. He went back into his backpack and retrieved a
sleek-looking stun gun and then a road flare. He gave her the stun gun
and flare and took back the Bowie knife. He looked around and found a
ten-foot-long, straight stick.
"Where's our friend gone?" he asked as he
sharpened one end of the stick. Lydia found the little copperhead snake
and he came over and caught it behind the head.
"What are you going to do with it?" she asked. Her olive green
eyes were wide with seriousness. "You're not going to hurt it are you?"
"No, I'm not going to hurt it. I'm just going
to borrow something from it. The good thing about the little ones is
they're always juiced up." He made the little snake open its mouth and
then carefully put the sharpened point of the spear inside.
"Don't scratch yourself with that," she said after he finished covering
the point with the snake's venom.
Davey-Jake let the snake go and then showed her
how to use the stun gun. She practiced and when he was satisfied he
explained what he wanted her to do with the spear. She practiced with
the spear for a few minutes while he kept watching for movement in the
bushes above them.
"Use the flare if it gets on top of me or there's more than one."
"I've got my cell phone. Why don't we just call the police? We can hide
down here until they get to us."
"I would if Judson was on duty but I'm afraid I don't trust most of
Sheriff Otto's boys."
"Let me call Dan then."
"Lydia, someone's tracking us by our cell phones. Dan talked to me last
night on my secure line and he told me something happened to Tyler. They
found his car wrecked and nobody around. I didn't want to tell you about
it until what happened were known for sure but now it's for sure.
Somebody high-up with connections means to do us harm. I don't want to
risk any more cell phone calls. This is probably a set-up to snag even
more of us."
She waited by the rope at the sheer rock face closest to the road. He
went to the far end of the sink hole and climbed freestyle up the rock
face fifty feet to the top. He made some noise tying a rope to a shrub
and then waited. Soon he heard something big coming through the
undergrowth. He whistled and rustled the bushes. When the thing got
close he started climbing down the rope. He got ten feet above the rocky
ground and let go. He hit the ground running, covering the space fast
with his long legs. Lydia's eyes told him the thing was in full view at
the other end of the giant pit but he didn't look back. He got to Lydia
and started climbing as she tied the rope to her harness.
"It's a different one," she said as he climbed fast up the rope.
The six-foot-tall, two-legged beast followed Davy-Jake down the rope but
he wasn't good at climbing with his clawed hands and fell thirty feet to
the rocky ground. He got right back up roaring and charged. The creature
was covered with short white hair and had short, pinned-back ears.
Lydia waited until the thing was right on top
of her and then lifted the spear up. She braced it against the rock wall
and the weredog ran right into it. The beast yelped like a dog and then
broke the spear with his clawed hands. The weredog came at her growling
and she shot him with the stun gun. He backed up but recovered quickly
and lunged at her again. She screamed when he knocked the stun gun out
of her hand and then like a miracle she was lifted off the ground. She
kicked at the huge, powerfully muscled snapping jaws for a second and
then was clear. Davy-Jake pulled her up to her feet and she untied her
"Oh, Lord, please help us," she said when she saw the fluffy black one
standing behind the small trees a hundred feet away. This beast was
between them and the pickup truck.
* * *
Davy-Jake slowly walked out to meet the beast. He held the Bowie knife
behind his back with his right hand and in his left hand he waved the
piton hammer. He whistled at the beast but the thing just stood still
looking at him.
Without a roar or a growl the beast finally came out of the trees. The
ice blue eyes studied both of them with a menacing intelligence
Davy-Jake had never seen in an animal before. If the beast had stood up
straight he would have been seven feet tall but he walked towards them
with the massive head down even with the shoulders and the ears pressed
back. When he got close the whole forest seemed to fill up with his
The two-legged, black maned beast walked right up to Davy-Jake and
swiped at his face with the clawed right hand. Davy-Jake whipped out the
Bowie knife and the blade met it before the claws connected. The entire
hand was cut off. Enraged, the hurt beast snapped forward but Davy-Jake
struck down hard with the hammer on the top of the muzzle. The beast
snarled in pain but the hairy left hand snatched out and now grasped
Davy-Jake's left arm so powerfully he dropped the hammer but he was
already plunging the long, wide blade into the open jaws. He pressed
forward against the beast, his face just inches from the muzzle. He
watched the eyes fade and the beast collapsed at his feet. The strange
human-dog combination lay there twitching for a minute.
Lydia met him halfway with a bottle of drinking
water. He drank and then she washed off the cuts on his arm and the
blood from his face and hands. The front of his flannel shirt was soaked
with the creature's blood but he had an old sweater in the truck.
"Its head looks like a giant chow-chow," she said as she applied
antiseptic on his forearm wounds.
"It was a dog, I believe," he whispered, still breathing hard. "Wayne
had a chow and a pit bull and I'm positive that's what these are."
"Davy-Jake, it's like they don't even care if
we know they're doing this." She was keeping her voice low now too.
"Well, he might not know I know he has them. One night about six months
ago Judson got a video from a security camera of Wayne and Dougie and
Bad Henry dropping these dogs over the fence at the police dog kennel.
These dogs chewed up a good one-year-old police dog trainee and then
they called them back and lifted them out Of course the sheriff
wouldn't do anything about it so Judson never mentioned it to him. But
you may be right, Lydia, maybe they got it figured it doesn't matter if
we know it's them."
"As long as it wasn't a human. A transgenic person, I mean."
"It might as well have been," he said. "It's sure got human DNA in it
now. It's illegal to enhance a pet animal with human DNA but somebody
did and what's the difference once it's done? It's as much a trans-genic
terato now as if it had started off human."
"What are we gonna do? They'll probably say we're murderers."
"The worst part is both of these things have a lot of dried blood on
"You mean they..." She couldn't finish.
"I'm afraid so. One thing's for sure, I'm not
about to let that other one stay alive, hurt somebody else."
"Tyler...I can't believe this could happen. How could that happen to him?"
"Lydia, chances are our friend Tyler is with our Lord now. I'm not
shrugging off what he went through but we might be headed for worse. We
need to pray and then I'm going down into the sink hole."
"Let me kill it. I want to kill it." She leaned forward like she always
did when she got mad. She reminded Davey-Jake of the image of a heroic
woman carved into the prow of an old sailing ship. He could see she
meant what she said.
"Lydia, vengeance isn't ours, even when it comes to monsters," he spoke
softly but his grey eyes were still hard.
"I want to go down there with you."
"All right," he said and he reached out to hold her hands. "You lead us
in prayer now. You remember the prayer from the Book of Joshua?"
* * *
Down in the pit the beast named Steelteeth watched them climb down the
rope. The creature saw in black-and-white but smelled a rainbow of
odors. Right now the strongest smells were blood and fear and the unique
smell that humans got when they were hunting something. The beast was
enraged and in pain. Since the metamorphosis his master had forced on
Steelteeth he could experience more pain, especially below the neck, and
he was full of new emotions. Resentment at his master and the other
humans he considered in his pack was there but it was the old mauling
instinct transformed into hatred by an alien presence that wrenched his
being like nothing else ever had. The alien spirit possessing Steelteeth
hated them and everything else.
They were down now. Steelteeth was ready to charge. He wanted to kill
the female, the one that had stabbed with the sharp stick. The wound in
its chest was on fire. He could smell that Lion, the dominant one, had
been killed. The male human had done it; the story was all over him.
Steelteeth was wounded and alone, there would be no help from the pack.
He snarled and charged.
He went after the female but she suddenly held out a thing with fire and
sickening smoke in front of her. Steelteeth tried to swipe it away but a
cutting thing slashed out and his right arm was badly wounded. He turned
to swipe at the male but was wounded badly again. He turned and attacked
the female one more time. The snapping jaws were met with burning fire;
Steelteeth accepted the burns on the muzzle and kept charging but was
knocked forward down to the ground and then came darkness when his skull
was pierced and his head pinned to the ground by the big sharp thing.
* * *
After Davy-Jake and Lydia buried the bodies and his blood-stained
shirt with loose dirt and leaves and rocks they climbed back out of
the sink hole. They drove back to the hydrogen station and cleaned
up in the restrooms as best they could. He came out first and asked
the old guy at the counter if he could use the phone. He made a
quick call home and talked to his little brother Roscoe. Davy-Jake
spoke to his brother in pig Latin. Roscoe understood what he wanted
done so he hung up.
When she came out he drove them across the county to Percy's Catfish
Restaurant. They got their favorite booth under the wall-mounted
one-hundred-and-ten-pound blue catfish. Their meals were served up
quickly because it was between lunch and supper and hardly anyone was in
"We have to act normal," he whispered into her ear.
* * *
Lydia was not hungry and had managed to eat only a few bites of her
grilled yellow perch with lemon butter sauce when Bad Henry walked
into the dining room a half an hour after they were served. She
scowled and Davy-Jake turned to watch the hulking but surprisingly
agile figure saunter up to their booth. He had on his black baseball
cap pulled down tight on his square head. His tightly curled brown
hair needed to be cut and he was wearing his second favorite tee
shirt, the custom one with a faded faked photograph of himself
holding a round anarchist bomb with a lit fuse while beside him a
girl in bikini looked up at his face in a send-up of the classic
American Gothic painting.
"Surprise," Bad Henry said. "How's your arm, Diamond?"
"Only hurts when I see you, just like the rest
of me. I see you're still sporting the same wardrobe."
"Oh, you know me, I don't change." He started fidgeting with his cap.
Lydia knew what Bad Henry was trying to do. She
reached out across the table and held Davy-Jake's right hand, which had
already become a fist, in both of her hands. More people were coming
into the dining area to be seated and the noise was growing louder in
"Don't listen to him," she said in Spanish. "He's trying to provoke you.
Please, my love, don't listen to him." She knew Bad Henry didn't
understand Spanish. When he had finally been expelled from high school
it was because he had severely beaten up the Spanish teacher after a bad
"Dean Browner was talking about you the other day when I went over to
pay rent. He said you were the tallest midget he'd ever seen." Bad Henry
shook his head and laughed sardonically but Davy-Jake kept looking into
Lydia's olive-green eyes. "Looks like you both been rolling around on
the ground. I guess when you holy-rollers start rolling together you
don't care what you roll on!"
"He's a small man, you're a big man, don't listen to him, please," she
said in Spanish.
"Boy, I heard a story about the way your daddy sounded when he got run
over. I heard from a good source he was squealing like a stuck pig
almost a quarter mile down the road that night."
"I beg you. Don't listen to him. I love you. He
doesn't know anything."
* * *
Lydia's soothing, perfectly pronounced Cuban Spanish was starting to
annoy Bad Henry. What was this? Didn't Davy-Jake understand English
anymore? He kept pulling his black baseball cap up and down. The
waitress walked up behind him and he scooted over for her. He started
pacing back and forth mumbling obscenities in front of the neighboring
The waitress shook her head and rolled her eyes. She set Davy-Jake's
lemon meringue pie slice in front of him and gave a perky smile.
"Try it," she said. "You're going to say that's the best piece of
home-made lemon meringue pie you've ever tasted."
He picked up his fork and tried a bite. He chewed and then swallowed
with a thoughtful look.
"Well?" the girl asked. "Isn't it the best?"
"It'll do in a pinch," he said.
The waitress gave him his check and left in a
huff. Bad Henry stepped back up to their booth.
"Boy, I have to say your girlfriend here is something else, Davy-Jake.
She really the by-product of a prostitute and a whole army of
"I beg you, man, not for me, for God. Don't do
anything. What he says is nothing. Remember, we love God more than
anything else. They're trying to trap us."
When Bad Henry realized this hadn't worked he turned on his heel and
marched out of the restaurant.
* * *
Doug Strapman was waiting outside in his car.
He watched Bad Henry walk past and go down into the wooded ravine next
to the parking lot. Doug had hoped to watch the fight out here in the
parking lot. He got out and followed Bad Henry down into the woods. When
he found him Bad Henry was sitting on the ground looking through a
naturalist's hand lens at a clump of moss on the base of a tree.
"What are you doing? The cops are waiting for you." Doug proceeded to
call Bad Henry some names indicating that he was unmanly and an idiot.
Bad Henry ignored it for a minute but then got
up like a roused grizzly bear and chased Doug. Doug had muscles, mainly
over-sized biceps from lifting weights all the time, but was clumsy and
slow compared to Bad Henry. He caught Doug as he was running up the
hillside. Bad Henry's punches were like blinding lights. Even when Doug
couldn't fight back any more Bad Henry kept pummeling his face with his
fists. Doug cried and begged like a little kid but Bad Henry kept
punching until he was knocked out. He rose up and marched out of the
woods, across the parking lot, and back into the restaurant.
* * *
When Lydia saw Bad Henry come back in she knew he was going to attack
Davy-Jake no matter what they did so she picked up the full glass bottle
of ketchup and hurled it at him. The bottle hit Bad Henry right on the
forehead, knocking off his black cap. He stopped for a second and shook
it off. Davy-Jake jumped up and the fight was on.
They exchanged punches and then grappled,
overturning the booth. Bad Henry slammed Davy-Jake up against the wall
and the mounted giant catfish fell on his head. Lydia jumped on Bad
Henry's back and tore out a hand full of his unwashed curly hair with
one hand and ripped the front of his tee shirt with the other. He spun
around and knocked her off. She saw he was going to kick her with his
muddy boots, but then Davy-Jake clubbed him in the face with the
four-foot-long, stuffed catfish. It was a heavy blow but was good for
only one hit because it broke apart. Bad Henry went down but got right
back up and charged. They were grappling again when the sheriff's police
stormed in. They broke it up and arrested all three of them.
* * *
Rick was sitting right next to the stunning Angela Starr at the long
lunch table in the mostly dark high school auditorium. The committee
was made up of eighteen members from all over Moreau County and many
neighboring counties. The meeting had been going on for over three
hours and only six people had spoken so far. Rick was starting to
get hungry. It was strange to him that no one was taking minutes.
During a break Angela had told him this was just an informal first
meeting and she didn't want to scare anyone by putting them on
record yet. Still it was strange.
"To get to my point, ladies and gentlemen of
the committee, for us in East Saint Louis the sudden appearance of a
new minority group is problematical at best. Will they be
cooperators or competitors? Allies or enemies? We are still an
economically underpowered minority and many of us are afraid that
the oxygen of tolerance is going to be sucked out of this society's
atmosphere by the appearance of a new special-needs group that will
certainly take the focus away from us."
"Thank you for your insights into your community, Ms. Jackson. Next, I
would like to turn to our student representatives. First, I would like
to hear from Wayne Browner, a non-Christian student here at Moreau
County high school."
Wayne stood up and began speaking like he was at a podium. Everyone else
that had spoken so far had remained seated.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I am not a Christian, as Chairperson Starr has
stated. But the truth is my family has some very strong celestial and
spiritual beliefs which are just for us. I would never attempt to force
them on anyone else or even try to explain them. My beliefs are truly
"I have been one of the many victims in this school of Christian
intolerance. This bigotry has been increasing over the decades and I
have seen it grow rapidly the four years I have attended this school.
Everything from sitting at separate tables in this cafeteria to
disruptions of class and even fights. Outside of school I've been
victimized as well. My two dogs have been missing for three weeks and
just last night a car was stolen from my father's used car lot.
"Since the Red Counties Rebellion was thankfully put down, the shrinking
Christian population has become more fanatical, more hysterical, in
their attempts to overwhelm students, young people with vulnerable
minds, into accepting a fading doctrine that has caused so much
suffering in the world.
"Just one more example before I finish. This is something that is hard
for me to talk about but I feel I must for the greater good. Most
students and teachers know that I live in a household with no mother. My
father is very active with his business concerns and political
activities, not to mention his many trips abroad to support orphanages.
The Christians started a rumor that I was born to a surrogate mother.
Well, whether the rumor is true or not is no one's business. Put
yourself in my place when, after a hard-fought game of basketball, I
open up my gym locker and find a note taped on a test tube which read,
'Say "hi" to your mother.'" Wayne paused and actually looked like a
noble sufferer as he gazed at the committeepersons one by one. He sat
down and everyone seemed moved but Rick fought hard to suppress a smile.
Could Davy-Jake have really done that?
"Thank you, Wayne," Angela said with a maudlin tone Rick hoped wasn't
for real. "Now I'd like Rick Machado, a Christian student who
attends this high school, to give us his views."
Rick decided to stand and deliver. He had always considered himself the
sharpest male dresser of the Christians in Moreau County and tonight he
was decked out in an aquamarine suite with power tie and his wavy black
hair was jelled and combed straight back.
"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for allowing
me the chance to speak. I would like you all to know first thing that I
am a rational Christian who deplores any insults to the self-esteem of
any citizen, whether that citizen is considered at the bottom of the
social strata or someone from the richest, most privileged background."
He paused to let that sink in. He gazed around at a few faces but not
Wayne's because he already felt the fuming glare and he didn't want to
crack a smile.
"Again, I want to assure all here that I am a rational Christian. A
rational person of whatever spiritual persuasion can see that rational
authorities making and enforcing rational international law have helped
the world recover economically, created the guaranteed minimum wage and
the beginnings of a universal healthcare system that will increase
longevity across the board, and brought world peace. Democracy, the old
U.S. Constitution, would not have allowed these achievements.
International law intelligently applied along with the universal
acceptance of capitalism and regional free trade did. No one can dispute
"Now it is true that some Christians, mostly older ones, still wish for
the old guarantees they thought they had under the Bill of Rights, but
the majority of us accept and even embrace the global laws that have
been put in place.
"What I want to suggest to the committee, and I realize that I'm only
eighteen and do not have the authority to speak for anyone else but me,
is that Christians be given Protected Group Status."
"That's outrageous," Wayne interrupted.
"Rick, every group can't be given Protected Group Status," Angela said.
"Why not? There's a long history of intolerance and persecution against
Christians. We're a minority population now, even in most of the old Red
Counties. The truth is most of the mayhem and mass murders committed
against specific groups of people the last four thousand years have been
committed against people who worshiped the Judeo-Christian God. From
Babylon, Egypt, Persian Empire, Greek and Roman Empires, Huns, Mongols,
and Muslim empires like the Ottomans and the Moors, Hindu extremists,
Nazis, communists, the Japanese Empire, all of these powerful, organized
civilizations were merciless towards Christians and/or Jews."
"What about what you did to the Native Americans?" Wayne shot back.
"It was tragic what happened to the Native American populations but it
was probably inevitable. Human beings have always moved around this
planet and they're still moving around this planet. If Europeans hadn't
inadvertently introduced smallpox and those other diseases then the
Chinese or Polynesians or Africans or someone else from the Old World
"My point is not to wave my bloody shirt higher
than everyone else's. All of us here are concerned about intolerant or
even violent reactions to transgenic citizens. I know there is a small
minority of my fellow Christians who are capable of extremism and I want
to do everything I can to prevent any tragedies, both for the
transgenics and for the vast majority of Christians and Jews who reject
this kind of extremism but who will pay the price if it happens.
"All I'm suggesting is that the powers that be,
the lawlords who write the laws and the Supreme Court and the World
Court that enforce them, make a public effort to be inclusive to people
of faith. If not Protected Group Status then maybe give us some
concessions so there is buy-in to this new reality."
"What would you suggest in the way of 'concessions'?" Angela asked.
"Off the top of my head I can think of two examples. First, legalize the
broadcast of Christian radio programming."
"Legalize the public broadcast of religious propaganda on government
owned airwaves?" Wayne asked. "That's insulting."
"Why? Secular broadcasters are not even using most of the radio
"Second, end the criminalizing of women who go ahead and have their
babies even if the fetus doesn't pass the amniocentesis test."
"It's not a crime for them to have the baby if they want to," Angela
said. "They just can't get the birth of a defective child paid for by
"They're going to break the law because they have to falsify the report
because no one can afford the medical cost without government insurance.
What is the big deal? If they want to cure the child with human
stem-cell therapy it looks like that is affordable now and even if they
choose not to, society is going to be dealing with feeding and housing
five-ton giants and high-energy flying transgenics so dealing with a
tiny percentage of um, ah, the differently-abled should be a piece of
"So by giving the Christians something you make
it harder for the extremists to operate within their sanctuary." Angela
was starting to look impressed and he got warm glow. "That's an
impressive treatment of the realpolitik of this situation."
Rick sat down happy even though almost everyone else in the high school
auditorium had grown uncomfortable during the debate. Wayne was livid
with animosity, but what else was new? He just wished they had catered
in some food.
* * *
After the last committeeperson finished
speaking, the high school auditorium emptied out. Rick waited outside
Angela's office as she made some quick private phone calls. He was just
about famished and wanted to get out of there.
Angela came out looking radiant and flashed him a dazzling smile. She
took his arm as they slowly walked out the front doors of the high
school and then past the statue of Sebastiao. It was dusk with no breeze
and the air was heavy.
"You were brilliant tonight, Rick. Did you do much preparation?"
"A little. I had to balance it with studying for your final."
"You've already aced my class." She slowed the
walking pace. "You have to know that." He didn't say anything and she
continued. "I really like your hair with a wet look. You wear that suite
really well, too. Is it tailor-made?"
"Yeah, I got it done at Montale's in Saint Louis. It was a birthday
present from my mom."
"I have to say you create a presence."
"Thanks. My sister says I'm a fop and that I try to act too big."
"You're not a fop. You're a dynamic, well-appointed young man who just
needs the confidence to reach out and take what the world wants to give
She stopped and looked into his eyes. He felt
her hand on his hand and it was like an electric current running up his
arm. He cleared his throat. After all, this couldn't be happening.
"I need to get going."
"Why? You're eighteen. You don't have to be anywhere you don't want to
be. Rick, you want to make an impact on the world, but to do that you
have to obtain power. With power you can make things happen, with power
you can help the people you care about, help yourself. You only get
power by learning how to take. Taking isn't bad; taking is good. You're
on the way to becoming a great man; you've repressed yourself too long."
* * *
Kim Lemon was waiting in her car in the high school parking lot. She
felt bad about avoiding Rick's calls and a little embarrassed about
taking to her bed all week. After her father told her Rick was going to
this meeting, she decided to drive over and surprise him when he got
out. She had been waiting here for hours. Finally she watched about a
dozen people including Wayne Browner come out and get into their cars.
After they all drove away she figured Rick hadn't been able to get a
ride but then noticed the couple standing in front of the statue.
Right as they began making out Kim recognized it was Rick and the
international law teacher. She violently turned the key in the ignition
and threw the car into drive. She sped out of the parking lot not
knowing where she was going at first. Hypocrites, they're all
hypocrites, ran through her mind. Snakes. Worms. Then she decided. She
drove to the Mississippi ferry and then south around Saint Louis to the
Kim kept her face down and didn't respond when he started talking to her
like she was his girlfriend. When the five security guards left she
started to dart out of line to run back to her car but he reached out
and grabbed her hand. Holding hands with Bad Henry! In public! Her hand
felt clutched by a huge slab of meat. When it was finally her turn to go
inside an office for consultation he hugged her and then planted a big
wet kiss on her lips. His face was bruised and his breath smelled like a
shellacked fish. She ran into the office wiping her mouth.
Kim sat down in the chair in front of a young man who had a middle-aged
man's expression on his off-white face. His eyes weren't blue they were
indigo and seemed too intelligent, too discerning, like x-ray eyes.
"Do you have your smart-card?" he asked with some kind of European
She gave him her smart-card which held all of her medical and genetic
information. He swiped it into the artificial intelligence portal
and handed it back to her. He double-checked her information to insure
she was the person on the card.
"Your genetic lineage is standard North
American Caucasian. English, German, a little Dutch, one Semite ancestor
ten generations ago, surely an illicit affair. So Ms. Lemon, what would
you like to become?"
She lifted up her key chain and dangled the plastic red-haired girl that
had a dolphin's tail. She had won the key chain herself at the county
"A very common request. Care to change anything
"Eye color, I want blue eyes," she said.
"No difficulty there," he said. "Anything else?"
"I want to be placed with other mermaids, merpeople," she said. "I don't
want anyone to find me."
"Certainly, but you will have to be fresh water," he said. "There are
already too many millions of mermen and innumerable other transgenics
going into the oceans."
"Okay," Kim said after a pause.
"Here is the contract for you to sign. I see you are still only
seventeen. Do you have parental permission?"
"Of course, sure I do. I'll be eighteen next month anyway." Kim signed
the contract and then sneaked a quick picture with her cell phone
camera. She sent the picture of the contract with an insulting message
to her father's cell phone and then to Rick's. She hated her parents for
isolating her all her life and she hated Rick for being a dog who was
just after her money. "Is it going to take eight months?"
"Oh no, only fourteen days for a basic
metamorphosis like yours. We don't use viruses to transfer the stem-cell
DNA like the standard technique a few years ago. We now use specially
designed nano-particles that are very fast, very efficient. Using
hormonal injections we deceive your body into behaving like it's a
gastrula again. It's all very easy to do with the A.I. system
controlling everything, very safe. DNA makes protein, and a mermaid's
body is made of protein just as the body you have now is made of
"Is it painful?" she asked.
"Just a slight discomfort," he said. "The only permanent effects will be
some minor memory loss and of course you will not be able to bear
"I don't want children. I don't want to think about what those phony
religious moralists want me to do anymore."
"When your transformation is complete you will
be free from any concern about what other people expect, Ms. Lemon. No
more shame or self-reproach, a bargain, no?"
"Yes, it is," Kim said after a long pause.
Two orderlies put her on a gurney and gave her an injection that induced
paralysis except for her breathing. They told her she would be only
semi-conscious but she felt fully aware as she was carted into the
stadium packed with thousands of naked, immobile people and bizarre,
sometimes gigantic figures hanging from wires as far as she could see.
They put her inside a round chamber, one of hundreds. Something clamped
down on her forehead and then the machine injected tens of billions of
custom designed DNA nano-particles into her brain.
There is no one to pray to, she kept telling herself as the horrific
pain set in.
* * *
Bad Henry sat down in front of the slight man in the white lab coat. He
was wearing his favorite tee shirt, the dark green one that simply read
BAD HENRY. It was also his last tee shirt. He sure hoped all of this was
going to pay off.
The man in the lab coat looked up and grimaced. He asked Bad Henry why
his face was black and blue.
"Got into a little scrap with a big catfish this afternoon."
"Are you quite ready to begin this process, Monsieur Moore?"
"I was born ready. You seem kind of young; you know what you're doing,
um; I didn't catch your name."
"I am Cuthbert Starch. I am a graduate of the Pasteur Institute and I am
more than capable of..."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's all great Mr.
Cootie-Scratch, but I'm here to get special consideration. I know people
high up, are you following me? I want to get some special, custom work
"You will get no special consideration and unless you address me
correctly," Cuthbert Starch was instantly worked up into a frenzy. He
stood up pointing his finger in Bad Henry's face. "Unless you address me
correctly you will be removed from this facility. What are you doing
here anyway, egh? Look at you; you are already an American bogey-man.
You need no enhancement for that. You Americans will learn your place
Bad Henry bit down hard on the man's index finger. Cuthbert slapped Bad
Henry's face but the teeth just clamped down tighter. He should have
bitten the finger off by now but something was different about
Cuthbert's skin and bones. Bad Henry had been biting people since he was
a toddler. Just last month he bit the nose tip off of a man during a
brawl in an illegal bar up by Goofy Ridge, but this guy's skin tasted
like silicon caulking. Bad Henry seized both of Cuthbert's arms, his big
hands gripping like vises, and then rose up to his full six-foot
five-inches, glowering down at Cuthbert until he finally released him.
"Surprise," Bad Henry said.
Cuthbert fell backwards cursing in the "Chunnel" dialect, an admixture
of French and English and Arabic. Bad Henry spat and waited for the
security guards to rush in and drag him out, but no team of big bruisers
materialized to do battle. Cuthbert's supervisor, the same one with
indigo eyes who had advised Kim, walked in smiling. He was taller than
Cuthbert and wore a different lab coat. He exchanged words in Portuguese
with Cuthbert who complained of damage to his index finger but the
supervisor sternly warned him that unresolved incidents like this could
cause a drop in production and were unacceptable. The supervisor ordered
Cuthbert to go to his line. The supervisor shook his head and then sat
down at the desk in front of Bad Henry.
"Sit, sit, my friend," the supervisor said with
an amused smile. "Have no fear, there is no reproach."
Bad Henry sat back down. His eyes still glanced around for any blindside
attacks but no one else came in to the office.
"Listen, I'll drop the charges if I get what I came for," Bad Henry
"Drop the charges?"
"Yeah, that Mr. Cootie Scratch stuck his finger down my throat."
"Don't worry, my friend. I will discipline him
later. Now for what you came for. Do you have your smart card?"
Bad Henry gave him his smart card. The supervisor swiped it into the
Artificial Intelligence portal. He handed it back and waited for the
information to come up on the 3-D monitor. The A.I. took several seconds
longer than usual to analyze his genetic data.
"Where you from?" Bad Henry asked.
"I live in a chateau outside of Luxembourg City."
"What country is that town in?"
"Luxembourg, a member state of the E.U," the supervisor replied.
"That's convenient," Bad Henry said.
"And where do you reside?" the supervisor asked.
"I live in a stilt-house in the marsh about forty miles south of
"A scenic place I'm sure." The supervisor
suddenly squinted his indigo eyes and stared intently at the 3-D
"There's a lot of carp there but not as much
bass and channel cat as there used to be," Bad Henry said to make
conversation. "I heard most of them got wiped out by somebody fishing
with home-made dynamite." Bad Henry's eyebrows went up and down to
emphasize this valuable fishing information but the supervisor kept at
his intense study of the 3-D screen.
"Mr. Moore your genome is incredible.
Forty-eight percent is classic Gaelic peasant, you can see that, but
there is an astonishing discordance of ancestry here. Greenland Eskimo,
Basque, did you know you are one-one-hundred-and-eighth Chinese?"
"My ancestry got around, if you know what I mean," Bad Henry said and
his bushy eyebrows moved up and down again. He proceeded to tell the man
the story of the celebrity Chinese Siamese twins who toured America in
the early 1800s. Each twin married a beautiful southern belle and they
all settled down in Tennessee on a plantation. They each had one
son but when the Civil War broke out one son joined the Confederacy and
one son went north to join the Union. The story was true. Bad Henry read
a lot, especially in the winter. He couldn't afford a holographic
netcast center so he had time to read the collection of freak magazines
his biker-gang-leader grandfather had left him as well as the bomb and
booby-trap making manuals. The Chinese Siamese twin really was his
ancestor but Bad Henry didn't know it. He had no real idea of his
heritage on either side of his family; he was just trying to play the
indigo-eyed man to get better service.
"Look at this: Berber, Corsican, Algonquian,
Cossack, Serbian, Latvian, Hungarian, and Semite. It goes on and on. It
"Now that you're clear on my royal background I want to get down to
business," Bad Henry said. "I have regal roots so I need to get some
regal service; you follow me?"
"Certainly," the supervisor said. "I have
clearance to utilize genomes of prehistoric animals that my underlings
do not have access to."
"Listen, dinosaurs and all that is way too
retro for somebody as up-and-coming as me," Bad Henry said.
"You have something unique in mind?"
"Now you're cooking," Bad Henry said as he rubbed his thick hands
together. He proceeded to tell the supervisor what he wanted to be
"You admire the jihadists, no?" The supervisor
asked with a sinister smile Bad Henry liked.
"The Kamikazes were better, they had class." Bad Henry could hardly stay
seated he was so excited. "The problem is none of them were able to tell
anybody what it was like to do it."
"I will honor this request," the supervisor said. "Make no mistake, this
is a supreme bioengineering design challenge, but I will put a team on
it and cut some special A.I. time to project a model of how this could
be done. I am so sick of fairy story mermaids and unicorns and satyrs.
So infantile, so lacking in imagination. You, my friend, are a genius."
Bad Henry settled himself down. He posed with his profile chin up like
he was being sculpted by a great artist. The supervisor left and came
back several times with different lab workers. He finally came back in
with an A.I. printout the size of a telephone book and then proceeded to
go over the design parameters with Bad Henry.
"You will become a polymorphic organism. This
means that your body will take on a different form under the proper
circumstances. There are some examples of this in nature; what you would
call pond scum. You will be given the ability to produce an explosive
gas. No, not methane, what you want is explosive power far greater than
that. That part is easy. The central core of your body will explode on
your command with a force powerful enough to destroy a large building.
"Here it gets difficult. We will have to reinforce your skull, as robust
as it is now, and also your brain with multiple layers of redundancy. We
have never done that for anyone else, my friend. But the most
biotechnologically sweet aspect of this design is how you will be
regenerated. Soon after the blast some friend will have to locate your
head and then immerse it in stagnant water. After the immersion of your
head in this large body of oxygen deprived water you will begin
producing amoeboid cells that will enter into the water to feed
independently and rapidly reproduce. As the weeks go by you will call
the single-cell amoeboids back to your head to re-differentiate and
build up your body again."
"What's an a-me-boid?" Bad Henry asked.
"It is a tiny organism that you need a microscope to
see," the supervisor replied.
"I like that microscopic stuff. Do you
really think my head will make it alive through a blast like that?"
"The projection can not guarantee it, but I believe you will be able to
perform this feat at least once. Of course you must sign a form swearing
not to use this ability for any nefarious purpose."
"Sure," Bad Henry said.
"Would you like any other modifications?" the
supervisor asked. "Facial structure perhaps?"
"Why would I want to change a classic, what did you call me? A classic
garlic pheasant? That's a positive thing, right?"
"I referred to you as a...right. Just as
you say. It is definitely a positive. Any other requests?"
"Yeah, fix my deaf right ear, and send all this
paperwork into the A.I. and pipe it into my ears while I'm changing. And
make sure it's in English."
"An excellent time saving idea," the supervisor
said. "Anything else?"
"You know that girl that went into your office just a minute ago?"
"A Ms. Lemon," the supervisor said. "Very
"That's right," Bad Henry said. "Ms. Kim Lemon.
She's my girlfriend. Is it really true everybody is strung up naked out
there while they're changing?"
"Correct, so that the body transformation can
be monitored. Unfortunately to monitor the effects on the nervous system
we must keep the patients fully conscious. The pain is spectacular, I'm
afraid. Of course we don't tell most patients these facts. We don't want
statistical imbalances when it comes to class ratios."
"I see your point," Bad Henry said. "My request
is to hang me up right next to Kim."
"How thoughtful," the supervisor said with
another sinister, knowing smile. "I am sure she will be comforted a
great deal by your presence."
"You bet. My being there right next to her will
make a big difference to her and to me."
"You are not troubled at all about the pain
coming, are you, Mr. Moore?" the supervisor asked.
"It'll just be like meeting an old friend," Bad Henry said.
* * *
"Get up, Rick," Angela said early Sunday
morning. "Hurry, get dressed. We have to leave right now."
Rick rolled over. He had fallen asleep on the
living room floor in her apartment. He was cold and felt a gnawing
hunger that had never been in his body before. But what a night, he
couldn't believe she brought him to her apartment. He wasn't a virgin
"What's the hurry?" he asked as he got dressed.
She didn't answer and he went into her bathroom. When he came out he
went to her kitchen to look for something to eat. The cupboards were
bare and to his great puzzlement he found nothing but a dozen bottles of
what looked like dietary supplements labeled with strange names and
bottles of drinking water in the refrigerator. Angela came into the
kitchen. She had on a long-sleeved beige teachers outfit nothing like
the glamorous blue dress she had worn last night.
"Rick, we have to get out of this county now. I'll tell you why once we
As she drove them out of Bluff City in her
scarlet sports car, Rick began to feel guilty. He should be in church
right now. Why did he have this queasy morning-after feeling? Last night
she made him feel like everything that came before in his life was
"Do you have my cell phone? I need to call my mom, let her
know I'm all right." She didn't answer. They were coming up to Riverton
now. He squinted from the sunny morning glare and then noticed the smoke
rising from the riverfront. He stared at the billowing black smoke.
"There must be a big fire down by the Indian Christian Church."
"It is the Indian church," Angela said. She kept her eyes on the road.
"I wonder how it started."
"It was arson," she said. "Someone planted a
timed incendiary device inside the church last night. But that's not the
worst thing that's happened."
"How do you know all this?" Rick suddenly
realized he did not know this woman.
"I'm not exactly a teacher, Rick, although I
did a pretty good job of instructing you last night." She glanced over
at him with a quick smile.
"What are you?"
"I'm a special agent for a U.N. anti-terrorist
agency. I've been working undercover this school year. A teacher is the
only new face in this county that wouldn't arouse a lot of curiosity. I
was sent here to prevent a tragedy, but I'm afraid it's too late."
She stopped the two-seat sports car in front of
the ramp to get onto the Mississippi River ferry. As they waited she
showed him her official badge, identification smart card, and law
enforcement stun gun. The dashboard entertainment controls looked normal
but when she pressed a hidden button the police and fire department
frequencies came on. They listened to the fire chief talking to the crew
at the scene. It sounded like everyone had made it out of the church.
"Your friend Tyler Pandav is dead, Rick."
"What happened to him?"
"The sheriff's police found a camper burning in the woods about fifteen
kilometers northeast of here. After they put it out they noticed a lot
of blood in and around the vehicle. They followed the blood trail to
three shallow graves down in a big pit. One of them was Tyler."
"My sister and her boyfriend were rock climbing
in that sink hole yesterday." Rick held his breath.
"The other two bodies were a pair of
unidentified transgenics, Rick. But I'm afraid your sister and her
boyfriend were involved."
"Not Lydia, no way. Not Davy-Jake either."
"They've both already admitted to murdering the transgenics. Of course
they claim it was self-defense. Her boyfriend has their blood and
Pandav's all over him even though he tried to clean up at a
Rick said nothing for a minute as she drove onto the ferry. He looked
out at the wide bronze river and watched the white gulls soaring high
above and the dark grey swallows swooping down to skim the top of the
water. He wondered if he would ever see home again.
"Where did they pick them up?" he finally asked.
"They were eating at Percy's Restaurant yesterday afternoon. They were
behaving strangely, very agitated. Your sister threw a ketchup bottle at
a customer and then her boyfriend started brawling. He not only battered
the guy he tore up half the dining area. He had to submit his
smart card when they got him to jail and his DNA was matched to blood on
the two transgenics."
"I can't believe it."
"Look, Rick, I'm sorry reality is crashing down
on you like this but you're going to have to deal with it. The county
you grew up in is not the friendly Mid-western
every-body-loves-his-neighbor place it tries to look like. It has a long
history of bigotry. It was an anti-draft copperhead county way back
during the American Civil War. There were KKK rallies in the 1920s and
for the next one hundred years almost no one inside the county would
sell property to someone from outside the county. That's why the suburbs
never moved out this way. And of course there was the Red Counties
"The Rebellion was not bigotry," Rick said. "Rural America was outraged
at the Supreme Court for ruling the U.S. Constitution was superseded by
U.N. resolutions. To them it was crazy logic that Canadian laws followed
the U.N. resolutions so the U.S. had to comply with Canadian law.
Basically the Supreme Court gave the country away to Canada. It was
patriotism to oppose that, not bigotry."
"How many atrocities in the name of defending the U.S. Constitution are
enough? Hiroshima? Nagasaki? Vietnam? The Wars
for Oil? The list goes on and on, Rick."
"Why would Christians murder another
"The well organized terrorist group that is behind this knows that for
an insurgency to be successful it has to be ruthless. They're backed by
a very cunning Zionist power base and they know their stuff. Remember
your history, Rick. The Christian Indian immigrants didn't participate
in the Red Counties Rebellion. They've sent a message."
"Zionist power base?"
"That's right, Rick. You'll learn more about them later." She was now
driving them down the road to the freeway that ran south into Saint
Louis. She shifted gears and the ride got smoother. "I want you to know
that last night was not part of my assignment. Undercover work is
lonely, very isolating. You're the only person in that place I could
"I promise you that I will do everything I can
to protect your mother and your sister, but I need your help. We need to
understand the relationships that power the Christian underground in
Moreau County. Only you can do that for us." She gave him a vulnerable
look and then reached over and held his hand. She took his hand and
brought it up to her mouth and kissed it. "Tonight is another night,"
* * *
Angela drove up to a tan twenty-story building with no windows. Rick
guessed they were in a north suburb of Saint Louis. She said some
coded gibberish into the back of her right hand as she drove
straight at a wall. He braced his arms on the dashboard, but the
building opened into a garage door that quickly shut behind them.
She navigated the little car into a parking area and within thirty
seconds handed him over to a six-person interrogation team.
The four males and two females interrogated
Rick for hours. Two males and one female would act hostile and the
other three would seem friendly but then without reason the trios
would switch. Finally someone came in and gave him loaf of white
bread, a jar of pre-mixed peanut butter and grape jelly, and a liter
of milk. When he wolfed down the pbj sandwich he made with his
fingers they all looked at him like he was doing something
disgusting. He didn't care. He cooperated, answered all their
questions which they repeated over and over. He was infuriated at
Davy-Jake for getting his sister into this trouble and believed
Angela when she promised to help his family. But when they began
focusing their questions on Daniel Jeremiah Diamond he felt sick in
his soul. Sometimes Angela would step in and converse rapidly in
Portuguese with the others then leave without even looking at him.
If he would have tried he probably could have understood some of
what they were saying but he just spaced out.
He was sure it was past midnight when Angela finally came in and got
him. He grabbed the jar of peanut butter and jelly, and the half a loaf
of bread and the half empty liter of milk. She marched him down a flight
of stairs and then through a maze of hallways. He tried to memorize all
the twists and turns in case he decided to get out. Finally she unlocked
a door to an apartment with no windows. It was nicely furnished with
multi-colored furniture and a plush orange carpet.
"This is my real place," she said as she led
He hurried to put the milk in her kitchen refrigerator. Once again,
there was no real food in her refrigerator, just the dozen bottles of
what looked like dietary supplements and bottles of water. Just when he
stepped out of her kitchen with a bottle of water he felt the ground
move under his feet for the first time.
"It must be an earth tremor," she said.
* * *
Rick woke up on the living room carpet again. Just a few hours ago he
had collapsed on the floor. Angela was sitting in her luxurious
crimson-striped black chair, no evidence of sleep depravation on her
beautiful face. Her bronze eyes held no emotion, just intense scrutiny.
He didn't say good morning.
"You don't sleep. You don't eat any real food.
What kind of transgenic enhancements did you get?"
"None, I'm not transgenic," she said.
"What are you then?"
"That's kind of blunt, Rick."
"I guess we're past all the formalities, right?
I haven't kept anything from you."
"I've been sitting here for three hours
watching you sleep. It's fascinating how you toss and turn, the way your
eyes move under your eyelids when you're dreaming."
"You don't dream because you don't sleep." He
wanted to laugh but couldn't.
"It's like you're plugged into some kind of
video system that's playing meaningless garbage inside your head." She
paused and a kind of smile spread across her face. "I need to ask you
one more question and if you answer truthfully and correctly I'll tell
you anything you want to know about me."
"All right, ask away."
Angela didn't say anything for a minute. She leaned forward and the tips
of her slender fingers started caressing the coffee table in front of
her. She made little caressing circles with her fingers as she stared
into his eyes.
"You don't have any illusions about going back home or going back to
church, do you?"
"No. I can't go back home. I'm done with church. It used to mean a lot
to me but it doesn't mean anything any more." His initial guilt from the
previous morning was gone but his admiration for her had disappeared
too. Rick knew now that she had no real affection for him or for
anything else. He already detested her, but at the same time felt more
alive than he ever could have imagined because of her fiery skills.
She leaned back into her chair. Her silk kimono
was loose so she tightened the sash around her wasp-waist and then
crossed her arms.
"I am enhanced. I've been enhanced for almost a
year and a half, but not with animal DNA or any other DNA. My body
doesn't have DNA anymore. I love that look on your face, Rick.
"Here's the truth. I'm neogenic not
transgenic. Only ruling meritocrats get this enhancement. My DNA was
replaced by a vastly superior genetic code designed by our A.I. system.
I'm not made of protein any more. My bones are immensely stronger and
more durable than calcium bones. I can't get sick from viruses,
bacteria, protozoa, or even prions. I can live for days or longer under
water or without air. I can walk out of a burning building or jog
through a blizzard. I could hike from pole to pole and never get tired.
As long as I avoid massive brain core trauma I really can't be killed.
It would probably take a direct hit with an atomic bomb to do me in. But
the best part is this body is good for a thousand years at least. I'm a
superwoman, Rick. What do you think about that?"
Rick got up and got dressed. He couldn't even ask himself
how he had gotten in over his head. This was over anyone's head. He felt
hungry and nauseous at the same time.
"Mr. Machado, I asked you a question." Her
voice sang with amusement.
"So what does it feel like?" he asked.
"I don't feel; I am. I am inexhaustible. Before I went
through with this I thought I was pretty much beyond worrying about good
and evil but now I really really really am beyond them. I am a
"Was it a painful process?"
"It was excruciating beyond your wildest nightmares, Rick. Thirteen
months of it. They've got the process down to three or four months now."
"Progress, huh?" he said.
"That's probably as quick as it can be done."
"So why are you interested in me?" he asked. "I
mean what can someone like you get from being with someone like me?"
"Well, there are a couple of things. Long term
I am going to need a protégé to help build my power base. He would be
enhanced neogene too. If you play your cards right it could be you,
Rick. It's an honor an extremely small percentage of the population is
going to get."
"What about short term?" he asked.
"I guess I have to admit there is one drawback to being a superwoman.
Without any inhibitions you develop super-cravings. Having
twenty-four-seven access to an eighteen-year-old young man such as you
is about the closest thing to getting what I have to have when I have to
"There aren't any nice neogenic guys around?"
Rick tried to smile.
"There are no 'nice' neogenic guys. They're all occupied developing
their own power bases and their obsessions are even wilder than mine. In
fact they are all turning out downright bizarre. You would probably
still say they're depraved, but who are you to judge true supermen.
"I know you think I haven't been taking good
care of you, not letting you sleep and not giving you balanced meals,
but the truth is I don't have time for that. You're just going to have
to endure it, Rick."
"So it's not to soften me up for questioning?"
"No, we can get the truth out of you any time we need to. I know you've
told us the truth so that won't be necessary. We're all done with that.
The question now is: Do you want to join us?"
"What do I have to do?" he asked without looking at her. "What's
"What's involved is you have to dedicate
yourself to crushing Sebastiao's enemies. The black ops security agency
I belong to is called the G.O.G. As we speak the G.O.G. is in the
process of seizing control of this free-trade realm's security forces so
that the terrorist groups here can be effectively dealt with."
"So the G.O.G. is Sebastiao's power base?" Rick
"Right, very good," she said.
"I was on the cross-country team for three years. I guess I'm just going
to have to start running."
"That's the spirit, Rick."
"When do we get started?"
"Tomorrow." Her face beamed with a mischievous smile.
* * *
The next day Angela brought in cold Chinese food for his breakfast. Rick
wasn't sure but it must have been late afternoon. She didn't seem to
need a clock in the apartment. He sat at her kitchen table stuffing egg
rolls and chicken fried rice into his face as she lectured about
"Zionists," she saved for last.
"I've been curious about this one," he said. "Is it some kind of Israel
"The truth is that the Zionist entity still
"What do you mean? Sebastiao negotiated the de-nuclearization
of Israel and the return of the descendants of the Palestinian refugees.
Palestine is a peaceful member of the Arab League free-trade realm."
"No, I'm afraid that's not true. Sebastiao did, as you stated, negotiate
that peace accord thirty-one years ago, less than a year after the
integration of the U.S. into the world community. The racist Jewish wall
finally came down and all the secular Jews evacuated. But
three-and-a-half years later millions of right-wing Zionists were still
there, living separately in privileged, guarded enclaves and oppressing
their Arab neighbors, just like always. Something had to be done."
Angela became quiet. Her face had never looked this way before. "My
father was an E.U. Special Forces veteran of the war here and before
that many internal operations in Turkey that finally solved the Armenian
and Kurdish problems. He met my mother when he was fighting in
Minnesota. I changed my morphology to look more like her; she had the
classic Nordic blonde look that opens a lot of doors. I'm actually
thirty-three not twenty-six. You were worried I was even older, weren't
you? Anyway, my father became an intelligence operative for the G.O.G.
after the war here. It was an exciting time. Two dozen Islamist nations
were set to attack the Zionists, with organizational assistance and
direction from G.O.G. operatives like my father who helped organize the
supplies pouring in from the Russian Federation and the Pacific Rim.
There were close to one hundred million Alliance soldiers secretly
massing at Palestine's borders.
"When Iran launched the first nuclear missiles from submarines in the
Red Sea and the Mediterranean there were millions of people celebrating
in Tehran's streets. They weren't celebrating for long."
"Wait a minute," he asked. "Why would they nuke Palestine when the
majority of people living there were Muslim?"
"The strength of jihad is the willingness to
sacrifice even hundreds of your own to get one infidel enemy," Angela
replied with a smirk.
"So what happened? This isn't on the history
"No, it can't be on the history net. The nuclear missiles from the
Iranian submarines and missiles from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were
redirected somehow. The Zionist scum used some kind of computer warfare
to re-target those missiles on the Alliance capitols. In the field the
armies from the different Alliance nations started attacking each other
with tactical nukes after they learned their capitols had been
incinerated by the other members' nuclear missiles. Everyone thought
they'd been double-crossed. All across the Middle-East tens of millions
of soldiers lay dead. The Jews let the birds eat their bodies. They used
the gasoline from the abandoned military convoys for years."
"Was your father killed then?" Her voice
"No, he was brought home from a military hospital a couple of months
later. He was one of the few survivors. He was blind and badly scarred
from radiation burns, was unrecognizable. As soon as he got his
wheelchair inside the house he found his pistol and killed my mother and
then himself. I was just four years old when I watched him do it.
Suicides were rampant that first year after the defeat.
"Of course it was this defeat, not Sebastiao's
peace accord, which brought on the Islamic Reformation. Woman so vastly
outnumbered men they had to take control of government and corporate
jobs they had not been allowed to enter before. It was a matter of
survival. There is no sense in sacrificing your children to jihad for
Allah if he answers the simultaneous prayers of a billion devout
believers with a total catastrophe. Almost the entire Islamic world
became very secular overnight. The shining new mosques in Europe are as
empty as the mildewed old cathedrals now. The new Arab League capitol
south of what used to be Bagdad is the most wide open, anything goes
place on earth these days."
"So what is the status of Palestine now?" Rick
The Zionist murdered or drove out the Arab
population that wasn't traitor Christians. The Zionist state now
controls seven times more territory than before Sebastiao's peace
accord. They have atomic weapons again and are developing new types of
destructive devices. They've smuggled in over a hundred thousand
right-wing Christian mercenaries from all over the world but mostly from
southeastern North America, stationing them in their new border buffer
areas. They are provisioning the terrorist groups here as well."
"How could they keep all that a secret? I never
even heard a rumor that had happened."
"What journalist is going to go up against Sebastiao and the G.O.G.?"
Angela sneered. "Besides, the Zionist entity agreed to keep its
existence a secret, but that may be coming to an end soon. If they do go
public with what happened it will be a great humiliation to Sebastiao
and his administration."
"Sounds like the Zionists are the most
formidable force opposing the G.O.G."
"That's right. They're diabolical geniuses. Not
just them either, the local terrorists here are masterminds too."
* * *
Twelve-year-old Roscoe Diamond stood outside in the backyard as the
foreign men in suits tore up the inside of his house looking for
something. Dressed in bib overalls, shirtless, and barefoot, he stood
there in the afternoon sun with a foxtail weed protruding from his
The three men finally came out of the house and ordered him to show them
the rest of the property. Their white faces with sunglasses zoomed in on
"I reckon we could stroll on down to the
bullfrog pond ifing y'all'd like to," Roscoe said.
He led them down the path between the trees to the one acre pond
surrounded by cattails and reeds. His feet hurt; he had to try hard not
to flinch when he stepped on pebbles and twigs as he walked down the
"Does anyone reside down here?" one of the blue
suited men asked with a Scandinavian accent.
"Just Bonny and Clyde."
"Who are they?" asked the man with a Welch
"There's Clyde over yonder in the mud." Roscoe pointed to what looked
like a dark brown boulder in the mud. He threw down the weed he had in
his teeth and led on.
When they got to the edge of the pond Roscoe
burped a big burp and began reciting his ABCs as the soda pop gas was
expelled out of his mouth. The three men in blue suits stepped back with
repulsed looks on their faces. This was just fine with Roscoe because
these E.U. guys creeped him out. He made it to the letter V.
"Excuse me!" Roscoe said after he ran out of burp.
"Where are the two you said live down here?"
asked the leader who had a German accent.
Roscoe stretched and then started scratching himself on the back of the
neck and the belly at the same time.
"I done told y'all that there's Clyde sitting
right in front of your faces." Roscoe finished scratching and then
picked up a long stick. He poked at the thing that looked like a boulder
and a gigantic snake-like head with furious eyes struck out of the
turtle shell. Its beaked mouth hissed like a punctured car tire.
"That turtle is enormous," the German said. "Is
"Oh no; this here's a one-hundred-per-cent
alligator snapping turtle. They're the biggest four-legged wild critters
left around these parts. This one here has been in my family almost
twenty years. We breed 'em for turtle soup."
"What's in that box on the pole in the middle
of the pond?" asked the one with the Welch accent.
"That there's a wood duck nesting box. It's for wood ducks to make nests
"We must be allowed to look inside that box,"
the German ordered.
"Well, you're welcome to it. But the thing is our little john boat
done sunk in the pond after the last storm and Bonny is buried in the
mud under the water there some where's." Roscoe stuck out his lips like
a thinking chimp.
"The alligator snapping turtle can cause
damage?" asked the Scandinavian.
"Oh, you bet your blue suit an alligator
snapping turtle can do damage," Roscoe said with sudden intensity. "The
thing is you all can probably wade out there. I don't believe it's over
y'all's heads. But if you stepped on Bonny, well... See, she's a lot
bigger and meaner than little Clyde here. Heck, he's only about fifty
kilos. Bonny runs him out of the pond pretty regularly. He has to come
out here and live in the mud for a couple of days. It ain't natural for
an alligator snapping turtle to live out of the water but ol' Clyde's
pleased to do it when Bonny gets in one of her moods."
The three men in blue suits decided it wasn't
worth it. As they started up the path Roscoe's eyes were watering. He
could barely keep himself from exploding with laughter. Then the
Welshman turned around.
"You don't speak like the other people in this
"What?" Roscoe asked back too quickly.
"You talk like the Anglos farther south."
"Well, I ain't ever been outside this county much. I was in Pittsfield
last year. They say there's nine thousand people living in that one
"They do not have holographic netcasts in their households," the German
said. "This is an isolated area."
"Their educational system is abominable," the
They left and Roscoe almost felt like rolling
around on the ground. He knew he could not have pulled this off with
someone from the capitol Ottawa. Now he just worried about his big
brother Davy-Jake. He went on inside to help his mother clean up their
* * *
That same Sunday afternoon Pastor Sterling
spoke to the crowd at the high school in Bluff City. The funeral for
Tyler Pandav that morning had been private but then hundreds of people,
both Anglo and Indian Asian, came down to the high school to hear what
their community leaders had to say about the crisis.
Pastor Sterling spoke about the history of the Indian Christians in
Moreau County and how much good had come from these mostly wonderful new
neighbors. They had been river people in India and after they left their
homeland forty years ago to escape the intense persecution from the
Hindus and Moslems they became river people here. They worked on the
barges and tugboats and were now the recognized experts on navigating
the Mississippi River.
Pastor Sterling could not make any references to God on school property
but he finished by offering the use of his Baptist church to the Indian
congregation until they could build a new church. He left the podium to
go sit down next to his wife and his daughter Debra who held a
life-sized poster of Tyler in front of her.
Reverend Mandal held a remote control as he
walked up to the podium. He was seventy-one, had wavy silver hair and
young eyes. He thanked Pastor Sterling for the offer, but it would not
be necessary. His congregation would meet in house churches for the time
"I have seen hatred in India and I have smelled hatred in India. I
witnessed the burning alive of my father and most of his congregation
inside our church forty-two years ago by the Hindu extremists. That
smell is branded into my soul. I tell you all now, one week ago today I
smelled that terrible redolence here in Moreau County.
"Permit me to show you two videos. Sorry to say they are only 2-D, but
once these have both been shown you will be able to come to your own
conclusion as to who is responsible for the murder of Tyler Pandav. And
after you have seen these videos I will ask you all, in the name of our
lord and savior Jesus Christ; yes, I said it out loud in this school and
I will say it again: Jesus Christ is our lord! And I ask you in his
mighty name to march with us to the county jail where we will demand
He turned and pointed the remote at the
auditorium wall screen behind him. A gigantic, smiling Davy-Jake
appeared on the screen. He was in a dark green sweater and was holding a
hammer. He was two years younger and two years skinnier and a little bit
gawky as he and a half a dozen other Anglos and a dozen Asians worked on
repairing the Indian church roof after a wind storm. When the video clip
finished Reverend Mandal explained that Davy-Jake and the other Anglos
spontaneously showed up to help repair the roof.
"Now this second video will be especially difficult for some here to
watch. Forgive me for making you suffer more my brother and sister
Pandav, and all you others who loved Tyler. This was sent from his cell
phone camera to Debra Sterling's cell phone right before his car was
struck the night of his death."
Reverend Mandal pressed the button on the remote and headlight glare
exploded out of the wall screen and then the video paused at the split
second when the driver and front passenger were caught in clear view
right before impact. Everyone could see it was Wayne Browner behind the
wheel and Doug Strapman next to him in the front passenger seat.
* * *
Daniel Diamond climbed up the steps in front of the old courthouse that
was next to the county jail. Behind him was Judson Hawkinson and behind
Judson was a crowd of five hundred Christian citizens.
Sheriff Otto Galloway came out and stood at the top of the steps with
his five most effective commanders, including his son Willy and daughter
Hillary. They looked confident in the late afternoon sunlight. Dan
walked up so close to Otto's face it looked like they were going to
collide. They didn't greet each other.
"Looks like you saved me the trouble of coming
to collect you, Diamond." Otto was sixty-six, tall and lean. He looked
twenty years younger. "There are some important operators that are going
to be here any minute to pick up Davy-Jake and they want to talk to you
"Well Otto, the thing is you need to see this before you go making
promises to important operators that you can't keep." He handed Otto the
documents. Otto just smiled as he casually looked them over.
"This man left the bench twenty-one years ago.
He must be ninety-five years old."
"You can almost count, I'll give you that. But you're wrong about him
not being on the bench. He doesn't have to run a court full time. He's
the emergency on-call judge. Since this is Sunday and the other judges
are all up in the Mile-High Tower in Peoria or the Tenderloin in Saint
Louis doing their business he's next in line. It's all legal. Read them
and then you're going to get Davy-Jake out of that jail then you're all
going to turn in your badges."
Otto now scrutinized the documents. When he was
finished he looked at the other five and they all moved to get back
inside the courthouse. They tried to push their way past Dan and Judson
but Dan stopped Otto. The former sheriff had his hand on his stun gun.
"Please go ahead and pull that thing out," Dan said in a calm voice. His
eyes were like blue-grey lightning and Otto stepped back. He handed over
his badge and police gear and ordered the other five to do the same.
"This is just temporary, Diamond," Otto said.
"The thing you just can't seem to get is your whole situation is
temporary. I'm this close to getting you indicted as an accessory to
first degree murder, both for Tyler and my cousin Ray."
Otto Galloway and the other five skulked to their cars and then drove
out of the county. Judson went into the jail and came back out five
minutes later with a blinking Davy-Jake. The crowd cheered when they saw
him, and Lydia ran up the steps into his arms. They had let her go after
three days. Davy-Jake kissed her and then the hundreds of brown and
white faces cheered again. Dan led them down into the crowd.
Judson put up both hands to silence the crowd. After they grew quiet he
read the warrants for the four suspects in Tyler Pandav's murder. Then
he read a proclamation based on the Declaration of Independence that
stated Moreau County was now back under the jurisdiction of the
Constitution of the United States. He read off the Bill of Rights,
starting with the First Amendment. After Judson finished the crowd was
clapping and cheering and he had to put up both hands again.
"Just one more thing, if anybody has an
American flag, Old Glory, you're welcome to fly her again."
The crowd went wild. But as the news of the day spread out from the
courthouse, over fifteen hundred of the county's population of seven
thousand began packing their belongings. Driving his shiny SUV, Dean
Browner led the convoy of protesting secular residents out of Moreau
* * *
Angela Starr was looking over the shoulder of
her senior operative, the German Wolfgang Honecker. He was sitting in
front of a 3-D monitor deep inside the operations center of the Tan
Building. They were listening to the recorded phone conversation between
Davy-Jake and Roscoe from that Saturday Lydia and Davy-Jake were
arrested for fighting with Bad Henry.
"He told the boy to hide the big phone at the
pond." Angela was instantly infuriated at the incompetence of her
"How did you decode what he said?" Wolfgang asked. "The A.I. system
could not decode or decipher it."
"It's not a code or a cipher. It's a jargon called Pig Latin children
use when they don't want adults to understand what they're talking
"I was not instructed to translate jargon. This
cannot be held against me or my team."
"Oh, you're wrong about that. You should have
realized when you were at the property that the Zionist communication
device was in that wood duck house. These rural throwbacks are
sentimental about baby animals. They would never have allowed ducklings
in a pond if they were going to be eaten by giant snapping turtles."
"I was not briefed properly on the culture
here. This is not my fault."
"You could not even pick up the prisoner from the jail," she said.
"There was a hostile mob of at least a thousand
in front of us," Wolfgang pleaded. "The security authorities
friendly to us there had just been relieved of duty."
"I will discipline you and your team later. And
it will be severe discipline." Angela needed to say no more. Wolfgang's
pleadings were silenced so she turned and walked out of the operations
room. She went straight up to her apartment where Rick was sleeping.
* * *
For the last two weeks during the few hours when Rick could sleep long
enough to dream he dreamed about food. He felt guilty about not dreaming
about his family, but vivid sights and tastes and aromas of his favorite
foods kept recurring. It was just food, no family.
Now he was dreaming he was back home. His mother and his sister Lydia
were in the kitchen together talking in Cuban Spanish that sounded like
poetry. His mother was making chocolate fudge from powdered cocoa and
Lydia was stuffing green peppers with freshly grilled pheasant and
spotted paca steaks. Dan was outside grilling more paca and pheasant
from his organic farm. It all looked and smelled just like home.
Suddenly a blinding pain woke him up.
"Get up," Angela said and kicked him again.
He had been kicked in the side first and then
the side of his head. He felt a little trickle of blood right next to
his eye and he had had it. Rick got up from the sofa and charged her.
Angela let him get close then feinted away from his punches. She was
just a little stronger than him but it was her ultra-fast reflexes and
martial arts training that sent him flying into a wall head first.
"What's wrong with you?" he shouted as he tried to get back up but
"What do you mean? This is just part of a
relationship. I come home from a bad day at work and we get into a fight
and now we're going to make up."
"I've got a headache," Rick answered with all
the hatred that his voice could produce. He lay there against the
wall breathing hard. His eye was already swollen and he was holding his
side. He wasn't sure if he had a broken rib.
"Oh no, you don't get to use that excuse. Your mother never lived with a
man that you can remember, isn't that correct? You don't know anything
about relationships, one always dominates. In this case it's me."
"I know you're warped," he said still breathing
Angela stood there staring at him for a couple
dozen seconds. Finally a smile came on her face. She pointed at him and
then her index finger curled up and down.
"Crawl to me, Ricky."
I'm just an animal, he thought then. I've got to stay alive; I've got to
stay alive. He started crawling.
* * *
During the next three weeks Angela kept instructing Rick on the inner
workings of the G.O.G. She told him that he would have to make a
decision as to whether he was going to become neogenically enhanced. He
would have to choose by his own free will, for some reason the process
was always fatal to people who were forced to undergo it.
One day Angela was gone for hours. After a
while he finally overcame his fear and backed into the door, reaching
behind his back to turn the knob. It wouldn't turn. Enraged, he turned
and kicked the door as hard as he could, again and again. He didn't care
if she had cameras watching the apartment. He had to get out now.
Nothing seemed to happen to the door no matter how hard he kicked it.
But as he desperately searched the apartment for something heavy to ram
it with, logic slowly overcame him. Where would he go if he got out
anyway? He hit the door one more time with his fist and then closed his
eyes and pressed his forehead on it. To escape from this building was
When Angela returned she gave him a folio of
papers labeled "TOP SECRET" and titled First Fifty Years Plan. He
studied the papers after she left. She was gone for many hours again and
when she returned he was ready to talk. Even all that had happened so
far had not prepared Rick for what was in the Plan.
"How could everyone go along with this?"
"Who wouldn't go along with it?" she asked
back. "You think the ruling meritocrats; the lawlords, the heads of
multi-realm corporations, not to mention the security forces commanders
would be against consolidating more power into their hands?"
"Some of them must be against this," he said.
"Some of them are definitely going to be dissatisfied with their place
in the new dispensation. I've already briefed you on Sebastiao's
enemies. None of those groups would go along with the Plan because they
aren't included. None of them know what the Plan is anyway, or they only
know portions. It is the most closely guarded secret in the G.O.G."
"It's a plan to enslave the entire population
of the planet. It's worse than the feudalism of the Dark Ages."
"You read the reason," she said. "You know as
well as I do that the vast majority of human beings are nothing but a
heard of chimp-lemmings. If this ten-billion-strong heard finds out the
truth that a horrible, incurable disease will soon wipe them out they
will go on a nihilistic rampage that will destroy the work seven
millennia of civilizations have built up."
"How do they know for sure?"
"The A.I. model of the spread of prions cannot
be wrong. It would take a solar flare burning this planet to a crisp to
"The prions are a great mystery. Not only do
they spread like germs, they spontaneously emerge from the central
nervous systems of mammals for no apparent reason. They somehow form
different varieties even though they contain no DNA or RNA. Some
unexplainable force other than Darwinian selfish genes is creating this
plague. No drugs, no radiation treatment, no sterilization with heat at
any practical temperature is effective. Prions are self-replicating
proteins that are going to wipe out the entire human race within the
next one hundred years. Rats and coyotes are the mammals with nervous
systems most resistant but they're not going to last much longer.
Probably after ten centuries any creature with a central nervous system
will be extinct, except for us."
"The Global Minimum Wage, the offer of free transgenic enhancement; they
both were just ruses to create dependency in the world's population."
"That's right. Ten years ago many parts of the globe still had too much
self-sufficiency in the rural areas, but that's mostly gone now. When
about a hundred million people become transgenic the agricultural and
economic systems are going to collapse because it will be as if forty to
fifty billion new dependent people have been added all at once to the
Earth's ten billion. After a brief period of hyperinflation and
predation the Earth's population will demand this weak world federation
be replaced by a central world government that is uncompromisingly
strong and ruthless. The Plan is moving events as we speak. It was
formulated by the most powerful A.I. system ever developed and nothing
can stop it."
Rick sat down in a kitchen chair and put
his head in his hands. He had emotions no one had ever named for him. He
feared for the planet Earth and for the human race. The Plan, he wished
he never heard of it. This was too much.
"Look, the Plan is working," Angela said.
"Europe was always meant to rule the world and soon it will. The E.U.
has the strongest of the four remaining currencies and once the global
economy collapses it will be the only one left standing. Nothing can
stop us. There is no moral force in the universe but once we gain
control we'll be just as powerful as the gods of Greek mythology.
"I need to know now if you are going to accept becoming neogenically
enhanced. We have to go in tomorrow morning if you agree to go through
with the procedure. Someone very important will be waiting for you at
the neogenic enhancement center."
"You'll have to wait to see. I need to know now, yes or no."
"Yes, I'll do it," he finally said. Rick forced himself to accept it. If
I become neogenically enhanced I won't let myself descend into
depravity, I'll become a force that will set things right. They won't be
able to stop me. No more sickness, accidents or old age to worry about,
almost an immortal. Watch out, universe. Everyone including Angela will
pay for what they've put me through. Anyway, I don't have a choice;
she'll kill me if I don't go through with it.
* * *
Before he woke up Rick had a terrible nightmare. He seemed alive,
walking and talking, but his body was full of maggots. When he woke
up cold and terrified he wanted to weep but couldn't. Angela was
sitting in her chair watching him as usual.
The early morning air was warm and humid as she
drove them away from the windowless Tan Building. The secret
neogenic enhancement center was only fifteen minutes away, she told
"I have to eat something," Rick said.
"There's no fast food place with a drive-thru on the way."
"I need to eat something or I'm going to pass out."
She did a U-turn and after a few miles drove into the parking lot of a
convenience grocery store. Dawn was still a half an hour away and a deep
blackness surrounded the lit windows of the little convenience store.
As soon as they got out a large male form
lunged out of nowhere and tried to tackle Angela. She was up and the
creature was on the pavement cursing and shrieking before Rick could get
around the car. She had an intense, narrow light beam from her stun gun
in the creature's face. The weapon had shot out multiple self-moving
wires that acted like tentacles. The wires penetrated the chest and
right arm of a satyr.
Rick looked the creature over. He had never
seen a transgenic person in real life. He was naked from the waist up,
had coarse goat hair covering his bare chest and head. Only the face
with the pointed chin, pointed ears, and the pug nose were bare. There
was a pair of curved-back goat horns rising from the top of his
forehead, cloven hoofed feet, and a violet eyeshine reflecting from the
furious purple eyes.
"You going to call the police?" he asked.
"No. I think I'll just play with him for a while." Angela manipulated
her weapon and the satyr screeched as smoke rose from his chest and
arms. She was using a high voltage setting to burn off patches of skin
and hair. The stench made Rick nauseous.
"I'll be right back," he said and started
"You're not going to watch?" she asked but she
kept her focus on the prostrate satyr.
Rick didn't answer her and walked on into the
convenience store. A craving for chocolate drove him to buy a dozen
chocolate frosted donuts and a liter of the transgenic-bacteria-produced
cow's milk. He paid for the food and sat down at the counter stool,
wolfing down donut after donut until two young girls walked in. He put
his head down and quit eating. He didn't want to be noticed by any
normal people, especially girls his age.
The two girls shopped their way to the back of
the store and he hurried to finish off the donuts and milk. He got up
and asked the nervous-looking middle-aged male clerk for the key to the
While he was washing his hands he looked up and
saw his gaunt reflection in the dirty mirror. He looked back down at the
sink as his hand slowly turned off the faucet. Rick dropped down to his
knees and clasped his hands together.
"Oh Heavenly Father, forgive me. I am a pathetic wretch. You gave me
warning. I knew what was happening because you warned me. Hundreds of
millions of people could have changed if You had given them that
warning, but not me. I'm worthless, but now I reject everything she
teaches and offers. Kill me, but don't let me fall into her hands again,
please. In the name of Jesus Christ I ask this, amen."
A small window was cracked open above the toilet. He noticed it as he
stood back up. Rick started to step on the toilet seat to climb out but
at that instant the ground shook violently. He fell on his back and then
tried to get back up but the shaking intensified and he watched cracks
appear in the wall in front of him.
The shaking subsided. Rick got up and attacked
the window. He pushed out the screen and pulled himself up through the
opening. If he had been his normal weight he never would have squeezed
through. He barely managed to hold on long enough to get his legs out so
he wouldn't fall head first. He flipped his legs out and dropped just as
another tremor shook everything.
Rick Machado rose up and ran so fast the wind
stung his eyes. It was dawning now. The sugary food and the fresh air
were giving him strength. He had been locked inside for four weeks. The
back of the store was surrounded by a ten-foot-tall, razor-wire-topped
fence. For a terrible second he believed he was trapped but he kept
running, straight into the gate, and it fell over. He stumbled over it
and kept running. All around burglar alarms sounded and police sirens
screamed in the distance.
As Rick ran down a sidewalk away from the convenience store, he watched
in horror as headlights on his back made his running shadow loom out in
front of him. There were fenced-in warehouses on each side of the street
and nowhere to go. The vehicle pulled up alongside him and a girl's
voice called out.
"Hey, you can stop running. The earthquake's over with."
The voice wasn't Angela's. He looked over and
saw a pretty girl with an amused look sticking her head out of the
passenger window as the small car paced him.
"I need a ride," he said. "Somebody's after me."
"Who's after you?"
"Back there in the store. In the parking lot. She has a... two-seat sports
car. She's after me."
"The lady standing over by the screaming drunk
"He's not drunk. I need...help."
The car stopped. The car door opened and he
squeezed into the back seat.
The back seat of the car was messy with empty cups, papers, and plastic
bags full of groceries but smelled like jasmine. Rick gave the girls a
serious look as he slouched down in the seat. In a few seconds he rose
back up to peek out the back window.
"I'm Jill." The passenger girl sported an amused
"Chin," the driver chirped. Both were pretty Eurasian girls. They were
wearing short skirts that were more feminine than the Scary Clown Club
girls' clothes so he decided to trust them.
"Call me 'M'," Rick said. "Try to take some side streets."
Chin obliged. She did several sharp turns onto side streets and then
drove down an alley. Jill kept the amused half smile as she studied
Rick. Chin got them out onto a main road busy with morning traffic and
Rick began to relax. The sun was up now and they were heading west.
"That's a nice suit." Jill gave him a full smile
"I'll sell it to you." Rick kept his serious face but she made him want
to smile back.
"So who's the scary lady?" Chin asked.
"Someone I had a relationship with."
"How long?" Jill asked.
"About a month. Seemed like a prison sentence."
"She's older than you?" Chin now looked him
over in the rear view mirror.
"Yeah, she was one of my high school teachers. She taught, well never
mind what she taught." Rick sat up and turned his head to look out
the back window one more time then turned back to Jill.
"Uh-huh," Jill said like a doctor. Her
entrancing green eyes showed no surprise. "So she was hot-as-sun and you
"Yeah, I got burned all right, but everybody's going to get burned real
soon." The weight of the future clouded Rick's mind again.
"Who was the guy screaming on the ground?" Chin asked.
"He was a transgenic, a satyr. He tried to jump
her when we got out of the car, but she has a special high-voltage stun
gun that put him on his back quick."
"Oooh, a sexy satyr; hold me back, Chin!" Jill laughed.
"Teratos are a syndrome," Chin replied. "A
satyr, how pathetic."
"You're not afraid of them?" Rick asked.
"We're both black belts in tae-kwan-do and three other martial arts,"
Jill said. "We're cousins, our mothers are sisters. They run a martial
arts school that teaches self-defense to women."
"You both out of high school?"
"Graduated three weeks ago," Chin said. "How
"No." Rick changed the subject. "What brought you two out so
early? You going to work?"
"We're on the way to the Lancelot Arcade," Chin
"We're gamer-girls," Jill said. "We get the guaranteed min-wage because
we're classified as artists now. It's not much but it'll cover the car
and fuel and food, and most importantly the arcades. We're creative so
why work? We've got better things to do."
"Here we are," Chin said.
The black domed building was massive. Chin parked the car relatively
close in the parking lot but it was still a three block walk to the
arched, sixty-foot-tall doorway and there was already a line to get in.
Rick had never been inside a holographic arcade before. He knew some of
the popular games from hearing the secular kids talk about them. He
decided to go inside. This part of the culture wouldn't be around a few
weeks from now, he knew. He figured that took away whatever sinful
allure the experience might have. He needed time to think about what he
was going to do next and this place seemed as likely as any to keep him
"You've never been to a holographic arcade before, have you?" Jill asked
as they walked towards the line. It was hot and humid already. The early
morning sun was beating down on them.
"Nope, I'm from out in the country, about a
hundred and thirty kilometers north of here. It's still the boonies out
there. Hey, do you two have anything sharp?"
"Why?" Chin gave him a hard look.
"I need to do something to my face. There are
biometric scanners at most all public places and I bet they have them
"What kind of trouble are you in?" Chin stopped
walking and then Rick and Jill stopped. Both girls waited for him to
"Sorry, I can't tell you any details. The more you know the worse it
could be for you."
"Well, I'm not going to let you mutilate your face," Jill said. "I like
Jill reached into her purse then up to his
face. Chin, the taller of the two girls, went to work on his hair. They
changed his wavy black hair to wavy blond and his complexion from olive
to fair. Jill helped him put in contacts, changing his eye color to blue
and then they stepped back to look him over. Chin held up a small mirror
and he was amazed.
"Not bad, huh, Chin?"
"One of your best creations," Chin replied.
"You two really are artists." Rick finally got rid of his serious face
"You haven't seen anything yet, 'M'," Jill said. "Ready to go in?"
"Ladies first," he replied.
* * *
summer sun was rising, Angela Starr followed the fading thermal
footprints on the cracked cement of the sidewalk. They were left by
someone running away from the convenience store. At first she
thought Rick had been knocked unconscious somewhere inside. The
clerk was too terrified from the earthquake to talk for a minute so
she searched under the fallen shelves and debris. Finally he blurted
out that the young guy had been inside the restroom when the quake
The restroom door was jammed because the ceiling above the door frame
partially collapsed. By the time she got the door off she realized he
had escaped. She ran around to the back of the store and found his
three-minute-old heat trail using the thermal sensor built into her stun
Now the trail led out into the street. There
had been a car here. Rick had gotten into the vehicle and left. His
defiance brought on a paroxysm of rage that almost immobilized her.
Angela went back into the store and shot the
wires from her weapon into the clerk who was just starting to put
merchandise back on the shelves. She demanded access to the video
surveillance record on the store's A.I. monitor. She didn't have time to
identify herself as a security official. She zapped him once with a
strong electrical shock and he screamed out the password and the access
code that brought up the black and white video of the parking lot. She
could just barely discern herself torturing the satyr at the edge of the
monitor screen and then watched the small car pull up and park right in
front of the store. Angela studied the two young girls that got out and
then ordered the clerk to make the video monitor focus in on the car
She spoke into the back of her right hand and immediately Wolfgang
answered, his voice emitting from inside her left ear. She gave him the
license plate number. He would have to hack into the No-Am central
security system because the purge of Ottawa's security forces had just
started and there would be some resistance for a day or two.
"When you locate them send the two sasquatch you just hired. They can do
what they want to the girls but I want him brought back alive. Do you
understand me? I want him alive."
* * *
The girls paid for twelve hours. Rick saw no patrons that looked
transgenic in the crowded hallways and wondered why. They felt their
way through winding dark passageways and he wondered if he could
find his way out by himself. Finally Chin led them into a domed
theater deep inside the immense arcade.
He sat down at a comfortable black recliner
next to Jill. There were ten of these recliner chairs in the room
along with a couch and a table with a microwave oven. Under the
table was a refrigerated drawer and under the refrigerated drawer
was a small blast chiller. Rick put some of the frozen chicken with
oriental vegetables into the microwave. The chicken and vegetables
came out a few seconds later. Jill gave him a lemon flavored tea in
a cold glass to put in the small blast chiller.
Rick sat back and watched the black dome turn into a blue sky with white
clouds. They were now in the courtyard of Chin's castle.
"She's been building her holographic world up since she was thirteen,"
Jill whispered into his ear.
Chin wore a rainbow colored cloak as she
strolled through her beautiful courtyard garden of amazing flowers and
trees full of pink blossoms. A tranquil wind blew in, moving the 3-D
flowers and tree branches. The complex, ultra-baroque castle with
rainbow walls was like nothing he had ever seen before. The structure
rose up organically, grown instead of constructed, stretching up
endlessly into the sky.
Four mighty knights came out of a tall door and kneeled before Chin. She
bid them to rise and they all greeted her with old English accents. Each
had his own personality. Chin had a favorite, the tallest knight whom
she called Valiant. His personality was so well developed and rich that
Rick couldn't believe it was just an A.I. program.
Rick watched with Jill as realistic battle
action, palace intrigue, and romance played out complete with scents and
breezes and even a raging sea storm. During the final battle with an old
rival, someone on the net calling himself the Wizard King, Jill assisted
Chin. Rick shook his head in disbelief when he remembered that all of
this creative energy must disappear into oblivion in just a matter of
Nothing prepared him for the artistry of Jill's project. She had created
a self-developing program of art and music. Prehistoric animals from the
Alta Mira Cave paintings to pop art portraits came alive with beautiful,
living colors he hadn't believed an A.I. system could produce. French
impressionist ballerinas became three-dimensional living beings that
beckoned him with more fluid beauty than he could drink in. And then the
power went out.
Chin left to go check on the problem while Jill
and Rick sat in the dark with only the faint red glow of the exit sign
above the door. Rick rose up out of his chair and went to Jill. He knelt
down and took both of her cool, smooth hands.
"You are a serious artist."
"So you really like it? You're not just dazzled?"
"It's amazing, inspiring," he said. "I think
what you're attempting with this is a salvage operation. You want to
collect and protect every scrap of living art you can. Whatever has
moved your heart you can't stand to let go of."
"How did you know? You're the only one,
not even my cousin Chin understands it. I've been working on this
"I have to go. Listen, Jill, you saved my life. Literally, you saved my
life. I have to warn you now. You need to take steps to protect
yourself. This life, the arcades, this whole culture is about to end.
What's going to replace it is going to be more brutal than any barbarian
society ever was in all of history."
"This global civilization we've grown up with
is going to dissolve into mayhem and then it's going to reconstitute
into a global-wide totalitarian regime that no one in this world will be
able to defeat. You and Chin have got to get to a safe place with
stockpiles of food and water and you're both going to have to get born
"Look, I can take you to a clinic to get medication or stem-cell therapy
or whatever you need. You're not rational. What you're saying is crazy."
"Listen to my voice. I'm not irrational. I am desperate to get you to
understand. When all of this ends what are you going to have left?"
"That's not enough," he said. "You need three
"What else is there?"
"Faith, hope, and love. They're the only things that can help you take
"Where can I get 'faith, hope, and love'?" she asked. "I don't deserve
"You're right, nobody does. But you can still get them through
accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior."
"You're a J-freak? You've just run away from an affair with your high
school teacher and now you're going to preach to me?"
"I know it seems hypocritical. I always hated that saying about how
'Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven'. We are supposed to be salt
and light to this world, no excuses, and I haven't been. But I have
repented what I did with her. I truly have."
"I don't care if you've repented or not. So where are you going? Why
can't I come with you? We can help each other." Her face became
thoughtful and troubled. Deep down he could see she was really of two
minds about her existence. "I used to have a lot of friends in middle
school. I don't even know what's happened to most of them. I get a new
boyfriend every month and by the next month I dump him. It's like
everybody's exploding out into the universe, getting farther and farther
away from each other. Even my cousin Chin, we're not as close as we used
to be. It's like you know me. I know I want to be with you."
"I have to go somewhere you can't go," he said.
"I have to find something out. I have to stay away from the people I
care about so they don't get hurt."
"What do you have to find out?"
"I have to find out what God wants me to do. I
have to be alone to pray."
"No, not alone." Jill reached up and held his face between her hands. He
bent down and kissed her on the lips. She kissed him back passionately.
His hand started stroking her slender throat and then he moved his hand
away but she moved his hand back to her throat and they kissed again. He
finally broke away and then the lights came back on.
"I have to go. Give me a pen and piece of paper." She did and Rick wrote
down three names and a phone number. "You'll have to go to a church for
sanctuary sooner or later. The most common Christian church in town here
is the Catholic Church, but don't go to the New Reformed Catholic
Church, their leader is a left-wing nutcase that's rewritten the Holy
Bible to make it politically correct. Go to a traditional Catholic
Church. Tell the priest you know a member of Pastor Sterling's
congregation and Pastor Sterling is friends with Cardinal Greene."
"Who's Rick Machado?"
"Just some guy. I have to go."
"Wait, your makeup is messed up."
Jill smiled as she fixed his face again. When
she finished she gave him a small case of cosmetics with an application
brush and a small mirror and then explained what he needed to do every
morning to keep his disguise.
"Bye," she said as he backed away. Rick shook his head and then put his
right hand over his heart.
"No byes. I'm taking you with me, in here. Have faith." He turned
and walked out the exit.
* * *
A few minutes later Chin came back in. She sat down next to Jill and
started cursing government inspectors. She told Jill some government
inspectors tried to shut the building down and evacuate it because they
wanted to make sure there wasn't any structural damage from the
"The cyberpunks chased them out. It was funny.
Almost was a riot. The management gave us three more hours free."
"You always said the cyberpunks were retro-scum," Jill said.
"They are, but it was funny to watch them chase out those inspectors.
Hey, where did that guy go? Where's M?"
"Why did you let him eat half of our food? You know I'm guy-positive,
Jill, but you were weak with him. The next stray you pick up better be a
They started playing again. When the two cousins finally left
it was close to midnight. They trudged to their car in the dark parking
lot. Neither girl could remember the parking lot being this dark before.
Jill got in the driver's side. Chin started to get in but a gigantic
hairy hand snatched Jill out of the car and she screamed.
Chin came around the car whipping a baseball bat through the air in
front of her like it was an electric fan blade. The nine-foot-tall,
pointed-head creature with glowing amber eyes held Jill with one hand
like a doll. It jabbered curses at Chin as she attacked it. She expertly
aimed for the knees and in fifteen seconds the sasquatch hit the ground
* * *
Jill got up and ran back to the car. She got in and started it but there
was no Chin. She kept the lights off and drove around the rows of parked
cars. This is crazy. Why are they attacking us? We didn't do anything to
them. She finally found another pointed-head, shaggy shadow carrying a
limp Chin towards the back of the parking lot. Jill did a three-point
turn around and then backed right into the eight-foot-tall hairy beast
at thirty-miles-an-hour. It went down and Jill started to get out
retrieve Chin but then saw she was surrounded by four regular-looking
men in suits.
"Stop her! Get her! Don't let her escape!"
Jill had no choice. She stomped on the accelerator and navigated out of
the huge parking lot maze. She turned down side streets and alleys,
looking back every two seconds. The car suddenly jarred to a stop when
the rear axle finally collapsed. Jill got out running with tears in her
eyes. Chin never had a chance, there was nothing she could have done,
but guilt hit Jill head-on. She wanted to scream, to tear her own hair
She ran around the streets of a neighborhood of
large houses with no sidewalks for many hours before she found a church.
A severe man in street cloths opened the door after she banged on it for
twenty minutes. When he was satisfied she wasn't a vandal or worse he
called the minister. This is a Lutheran church, not a Catholic church,
he told her. He gave Jill a bottle of water and she sat on a pew bench
inside the dark worship area. She had never been inside a church before.
The minister arrived and introduced himself.
She told him she needed sanctuary and showed him the paper Rick had
"Are you Catholic?"
"No, I'm nothing. But my friend was trying to
teach me. He's not Catholic either. He told me it was the most common
Christian church around Saint Louis."
The minister told her the Catholic churches were all full already. This
church was the only one for twelve kilometers. They were getting about
one family a night. He offered her sanctuary with three dozen other
people who were sleeping down in the basement. They had a bigger place
they would be moving everyone to in four days.
Jill accepted and was led downstairs to where
many snoring people were on cots or sprawled on the floor. She sat down
on the floor with her cell phone and sent encrypted text messages to her
mother and then Chin's mother. She dropped the phone and put her face in
* * *
Chin watched the gorgeous blonde walk through the doorway. The
interrogation room was very bright and sparse. Chin was strapped
down on a table that could be moved vertically or horizontally and
she was now almost standing up. The blonde studied her with piercing
bronze eyes. She wore a crisp uniform that was mostly black with red
trim, on her head a scarlet military-style beret. She stopped to
read the report from the two interrogators. She looked up at Chin
"Tell me your father's name."
"I told them I don't know my father's name. He
was some Anglo guy and my mother started hating his guts before I was
born so she never wanted me to know it."
"You don't know your own father's name?" the blonde asked.
"Most of my class didn't know the names of
their fathers. You going to put them in jail too?"
"You see what I had to put up with from these mouthy teenage
throwbacks?" She said to Wolfgang and the interrogation specialist
code-named "Jolt". She turned back to Jill. "You Americans
should have learned by now that fathers are important."
"What are you going to do with me? I need to
see a doctor and a lawyer."
"Your attitude is too parochial, Ms. Chin Kim, way too parochial. We
focus on the big picture here. Now what did he tell your cousin? I want
to know the specifics of everything he said to her about me and this
"He didn't say anything about anything except
he was running away from you and you used to be his teacher."
"Where did he say he was going?"
"She said he said something about going off to
The blonde and the other two burst out laughing. It was the most
sinister laughing Chin ever heard. Now she knew she would not get out of
this room alive. She steeled herself to resist giving them any more
"Oh, he's going to find a god all right,"
Angela said after she finally got a hold of herself. "Actually a
goddess is going to find him. I'm a goddess, did you know that? A real
immortal, all powerful goddess, and when I catch him he's going to wish
he was never born and he's going to wish it for a long time, I promise
you. You know what you are to me, Chin? You're not going to talk to us
any more, are you? I'll go ahead and answer for you. You're an inferior
little throwback trollop and you made the biggest mistake of your life
taking something that belongs to a goddess."
Angela got Wolfgang and Jolt aside and informed
them in Portuguese that Ottawa's security forces were now completely
under the control of the G.O.G. Central Command. They were now cleared
to dispose of prisoners as they saw fit. She turned back to Chin.
"You know, you just can't trust guys," Angela
said with an impish smirk as she began slowly pacing back and forth
across the small room like she was teaching her high school class again.
"You take them places, you entertain them, feed them, give them carnal
pleasures they don't deserve, a place to live, teach them things, and
what do they do? They run away to find a God that doesn't exist. No
"I think I'm going to have to take a break from
relationships for a while. I think what I need is a hobby. A lot of gods
and goddesses like me become collectors. We like to collect special
items no one else can get. I have to find something, something special
nobody else I know is collecting.
"You know, Chin, you have really lovely skin; it's like an exquisite
pearl necklace." Angela's impish smirk left her face and she
stopped right in front of the strapped down girl. She picked up a shiny
scalpel from the tray next to the table.
God help me, Chin thought. She never asked for help from God
before and was not sure there was a God. She didn't know where inside
her this pleading came from because it clashed with her martial arts
* * *
Rick followed the exit signs out into the
muggy, hazy afternoon. Some county building inspectors were trying to
leave but were blocked by a growing mob of metal-spike-headed hoodlums.
He avoided the mob and then started asking around for a ride. After a
few rejections he offered a loner guy his last fifteen Amero dollars to
take him into Saint Louis proper, which was more than fifty miles away.
Rick knew the city much better than the endless maze of soulless suburbs
and exurbs that all seemed to look alike. There were six million people
living inside the Saint Louis city limits and over thirteen million in
the sprawl to the west and south. Many suburban neighborhoods were ruled
by warring ethnic gangs and were dangerous to even drive through in the
The guy drove him halfway then started complaining the fifteen Ameros
wouldn't cover the rising price of fuel. Rick offered to trade his suit
for the guy's street clothes and the ride, and he accepted. He dropped
Rick off at the park under the Saint Louis Arch.
Rick sat down on the steps leading up to the Arch and watched the people
and transgenics go by. He saw a pterodactyl-winged gargoyle practice
taking off and landing on the sward of grass fifty feet away up the
hill. He gawked as a grotesque giant rumbled down the hill right next to
him. The thing stood at least twenty-feet-tall, the upper half human
with a face like a Picasso painting and the lower half a tyrannosaur
complete with stiff balancing tail. The enormous being waded out into
the Mississippi and headed downstream.
"Hey, throwback," someone said behind him. Rick
turned and saw a green suited creature with a big head and a chinless
face. He watched the miniature humanoid jump down the steps towards him.
The creature was less than three feet tall and had a pair of large bony
ridges above the eyes. Rick remembered anthropologists recently
discovered a pigmy race of Neanderthals survived on the rocky coast of
an isolated Irish Sea island until only a few thousand years ago. They
must have used that DNA to transform a man into a leprechaun.
"What did you call me?"
"Throwback, you're a throwback, not enhanced."
"I'm not a throwback and you're sure not enhanced," Rick said. "What
benefit did you get from being changed into an ugly runt anyway?"
"You gonna call me a terato next? You want me
to shout out that you're anti-transgenic down here?"
"No, forget it, sorry. Just leave me alone."
"Listen, bud, maybe we could work together."
"What do you mean? Work at what?"
"See, brains like mine have special powers,"
the leprechaun said. "Excel at gambling for one thing. Only trouble is
they've kicked my kind out of the all the towers. We win too much. But
that's okay. See, I've got other angles." The leprechaun moved close to
Rick's face. It had grey skin and clumpy blue-black hair; the bulging
eyes were mauve and the strange odor emanating from its sweaty body was
almost too rank for Rick to stand. "You can go places I can't. A couple
of jobs and we'd be rich."
"No thanks, not my line of work. I do need a job though. Any businesses
around hiring that don't need to see id?"
"You could go work at a feeding station."
"They have government feeding stations set up all over for us
transgenics. A lot of us need the vitamins and nutrients from
fresh raw meat and blood and we need a lot of it. There's one
about three blocks south of here in one of the old restaurants."
Rick stood up and started walking towards the old
warehouses-converted-to-fancy-restaurants district down by the
riverfront. The leprechaun tried to run next to him to keep up for a
while. He kept telling Rick they could make a killing as a partnership
and to look him up when he got tired of shoveling ostrich guts and
cleaning out troughs of rancid chicken blood.
"Lucky Duck's the name." Lucky Duck was panting and finally halted. "You
can go places I can't," he shouted after Rick one more time.
* * *
Rick got a job preparing food for transgenics
at the feeding station. The place had been a popular Italian restaurant
in a converted warehouse. He remembered coming here once when he was
small but no families would be coming down here any more. Almost all the
tons of food processed daily were raw chicken, emus, ostrich, turkey,
and other fowl. Some of the transgenics could eat dried pellets that
were basically dog food. They paid Rick and the thirty to forty other
human crew members hot meals two times a day and all the dog food
pellets they wanted plus a place to sleep. They also got to keep tips
from the transgenics.
Rick's main job was to clean and fill the
troughs with raw bird blood five times a day. The flying transgenics
needed to consume a lot of blood to keep air borne. In the mornings he
also rode with five other crew members in a dump truck down to the river
to feed the aquatic transgenics a couple tons of fresh fish. The first
in line at the river was always Og the river dragon. The creature's size
amazed Rick. He rose up out of the brown water until the horn-crested
head leered impossibly far above the crew members in the truck on the
river bank. The only thing human about this blue-scaled, serpentine
being was the pair of extra-long arms hanging alongside its body. He had
"How much do you weigh?" Rick asked the first time he met him.
"I am seven metric tons," Og responded in a cavernous voice.
"You're incredible," Rick said.
"There are serpents in the oceans more than ten times my size!" Og
roared back jealously.
His fellow human workers warned Rick to stay away from the river mermen
because they were extremely aggressive and unpredictable, but none ever
came to the feeding station while he was there. Rick did get to feed and
talk to smaller river dragons, centaurs, trolls, giants, werewolves,
satyrs, ogres, ogresses, chupacabras, wyverns, banshees, goblins,
hobgoblins, gargoyles, sasquatch, rocs, cockatrice, pixies, nymphs,
kelpies, and unique chimeras he couldn't begin to identify. The good
thing was they had a ten-man security team armed with high powered stun
guns and at almost every feeding time they had to go into action. Two
city policemen watched over all food preparation to make sure the
transgenics were not poisoned.
Days and then weeks passed. As he worked Rick
saw the natural fauna, the real wild animals, being replaced by
artificial creatures that nature could not support. He wondered how long
this could go on one morning as he trudged down the stairs to fetch the
hose to clean out the blood troughs. There was a new guy bent over a
cutting board butchering emus. He looked familiar even with his scarred
face and shaved head. Rick got a good look at him now and recognized
Mike Pitcher. Mike stood up straight after he saw the recognition on
Was Mike a spy? What should he do, run, or for
a split second the idea flashed into Rick's mind to silence Mike for
good and feed him to the transgenics. Rick kicked that thought down and
silently asked forgiveness for thinking it.
The two former classmates started talking and Mike told Rick that he was
on the run from Wayne and Bad Henry. He decided not to go through with
getting enhanced and knew Wayne would sic the Scary Clown Club on him.
He too was afraid of the biometric scanners and actually went through
with cutting up his own face. Rick didn't explain anything about his own
situation and went back to work.
* * *
That night a trio of wan vampire girls paid Rick to mix special blood
cocktails. When he brought out the freshly mixed blood in warm glasses
they drank with straws and flirted with him.
"You should let us bleed you a little...what's your name again? Rick,
yeah. We'll just bleed about a fourth of a liter out. It won't hurt
much. Then we can have some fun." The black-haired girl was languid but
still looked ravishing in a spidery black dress.
"We have fun with throwbacks," said the red-haired one who carried a
teddy bear with a wooden stake driven through its chest. The third
vampire girl was a blonde who just smiled showing her fangs as if they
"Sorry, ladies, I'll have to pass. I need my blood."
They gave him a huge tip anyway and Rick made the mistake of bragging
about it to the guys during the next break.
The next night between feedings his coworkers
dragged him into a poker tournament. He refused to play. Rick feared
gambling. His mother had told him that was the sin which had hooked his
father. They finally gave up trying to get him to play but knew about
his monster tip and he reluctantly loaned money to the two human players
who happened to be Mike Pitcher and Shelby Crouch. Shelby was the leader
of the security team, a big African-American guy who spouted hilarious
insults at the transgenics all night long. He made Rick laugh so hard
his sides got sore.
The transgenic players were a wild boar man
named Eddy, a jackal-headed man named Bert, and Lucky Duck the
leprechaun. They all sat together at a booth deep inside the old
restaurant. A bright light shined down on the table and cigar smoke
wafted through the air as the dealing began. Rick sat on a bar stool
with nine other human feeding station crew members to watch the game. It
was hard to follow at first but he soon learned what hand would beat
The first to go out was Eddy. He grinded his upper and lower tusks
together then got up from the table. He snorted belligerently and didn't
seem to want to leave.
"Get your pork chops out a here!" Shelby hollered at Eddy and he finally
went out the door.
Then Shelby got in trouble when Bert fell into a winning streak. Bert
had a great poker face, but had trouble speaking with the canine muzzle.
Shelby shook Rick down for more money. Rick watched that investment
disappear and when Shelby finally went out Rick marveled at Shelby's
extremely creative profanity aimed at "that ugly, dog-faced, behind-end
The game went on. Mike went on a hot streak and
made Bert quit. Shelby chased Bert out of the place with a grating laugh
that made the hair stand up on the back of Rick's neck.
When the game slowed down Rick went outside with the other nine workers
to do the 3:00am feeding. Almost no transgenics showed up. Rick came
back in and asked Lucky Duck where everyone was.
"Most of the transgenic children went to the festival in the big
cemetery," Lucky Duck answered.
"What are the 'transgenic children' doing having a festival at a
cemetery?" Rick asked but the leprechaun didn't answer.
"I don't get how pygmy Neanderthal genes could give someone good luck,"
Mike said. "I mean your genome came from a tiny population of
seagull-egg-eating runts barely making it on that little Irish island.
It doesn't make any sense."
"What I don't get is why they call us
throwbacks," Rick said.
"See, if you have the opportunity to advance
yourself genetically but choose not to you've thrown yourself backwards
in life," the leprechaun explained without looking up from the game.
"Therefore you become a throwback."
Mike laid down a full house, two nines and a three fives. He started to
rake in the money but Lucky Duck had not shown his cards yet. The
leprechaun caressed each card as he laid them down one at a time
revealing four eights. They were playing five card draw with nothing
wild and he had been dealt four of a kind.
"You're a cheater," Shelby said. Even though he
wasn't in the game any more he took it personally. He moved in close to
Lucky Duck's face. "I know you cheated somehow."
"You're violating my personal space," Lucky Duck said calmly and patted
Shelby on the wrist. The leprechaun stared strangely into Shelby's eyes
and the big man seemed to lose his intimidating voice. "Show me how I
"I don't know how you did it but I know you're a reeking little cheat."
"I have to go. You throwbacks are some sore
Lucky Duck slid down from the booster seat at the booth and Shelby moved
aside to let him pass. The leprechaun sported a brand-new orange suit
with a matching top hat and a little ivory cane. He strutted out of the
place with its chinless face held up triumphantly After he went
out the door they all heard the faint patter of little running feet. A
minute later Shelby realized his gold wristwatch, a present from his
deceased father, was missing.
"He thinks I'm a dumb throwback!" Shelby sneered and sprinted out the
door. They immediately felt the earth shake from a giant running down
the street, but by the time Rick and the others got outside no one was
there. After searching around a few minutes they found a crumpled human
form down the street. It was Shelby with a massive wound in the stomach
from being kicked by a giant's clawed tyrannosaur foot. No one knew if
it was intentional or not but Shelby was in a bad way. He looked up at
them for a second as Rick knelt down beside him and then lost
They worked to stop Shelby's bleeding and Mike ran back to the feeding
station to tell the two cops stationed there that night. The cops called
for an ambulance but didn't assist Rick and the others with first aid
for the man and did not seem interested in investigating what had
It took until after sunrise for an ambulance to show up. Rick got
Mike aside while they waited. All thirty-five of the feeding
station crew members were outside and they became more and more
agitated, finally shouting profanities at the two cops for not taking
any action. Rick didn't want to get into any conflicts that might get
him into trouble with the authorities and figured Mike wouldn't either.
"We need to get out of here," Rick said to Mike.
"We?" Mike replied with a quizzical sneer.
"Yeah. I think I know what was going on at the
cemetery. If it's what I think, things are going to get worse around
* * *
When the ambulance finally arrived Rick and Mike talked the lady EMT
into letting them ride with Shelby. As they left Rick could hear the
other security team members shouting that they were going to go on
strike. The new dawn was so hot Rick was already sweating as he sat next
to Mike in the back as they watched the lady EMT work on Shelby.
"Which hospital are we going to?" Rick asked.
"We're not going to a hospital. We're going to a triage center out past
Warrenton. The hospitals are all full. We've gotten more calls this last
week than all of last year, and then that arcade collapsed yesterday
"Which arcade?" Rick asked.
"The Lancelot Arcade," she said. "Over a thousand dead already and
they're still digging."
"You're talking two hundred and fifty kilometers to get out past
Warrenton," Mike said. "He'll never make it."
"Maybe that's lucky for him," she said. She was
a plump woman in her forties named Kathy Akhmatova. She had premature
grey streaks in her red hair and serene brown eyes. Rick noticed a
small crucifix hanging around her neck. She noticed and smiled.
"What denomination?" Rick asked.
"You seem dedicated to your work but maybe it's time to take refuge
She looked away from Rick to work on Shelby because his vital signs were
crashing. She got him stabilized and then turned back to Rick.
"You're right. That's what I was thinking. So
what about you two?"
"We're heading out to the countryside to get
some fresh air," Rick said.
"I never thought I'd do it, but I think I'm going to call my ex in
Kansas City. In Saint Louis the churches are all full of people hiding
out. Maybe things are better out there."
Rick and Mike got out at the triage center. The immense parking lot was
filled with emergency response trucks. Beyond the parking lot as far as
they could see were tents full of injured people. The day was blistering
hot and muggy. They were not allowed to go in with Shelby so Rick
quietly said "Godspeed" to Kathy; and Mike said "Good luck," and the two
young men started walking north along an old highway.
* * *
Rick and Mike walked alongside the old highway for hours under the
hot summer sun until they came to a truck stop. Inside they shopped
to spend the last seventy Amero dollars between them. The grocery
store had almost nothing left. All the canned foods were gone and
there was no cooking oil or milk and a loaf of white bread now cost
They bought a loaf of bread and a packet of sliced pepperoni Mike found
under the bottom grating of a refrigerated display case. They had enough
money for two large bottles of drinking water from the vending machine
and then used the change to wash their clothes at the coin-operated
launderette. They took turns taking showers and then they were broke.
Some people coming into the truck stop looked
like they would take off running if anything made a noise behind them
and some people walked around grumbling out loud about the lack of
merchandise and the high prices and the weak government. One burly truck
driver came in whistling. Rick picked him out to ask for a ride. The man
agreed to take them as far as Hannibal. It turned out the driver was
hauling pellets for the new transgenic feeding station there.
In Hannibal they couldn't find any work other
than the feeding station so they walked south out of the city. They
camped in the mouth of a cave that Rick knew about from Dan Diamond. Dan
had told him that for decades this cave was a tourist attraction because
of its association with a famous American writer. When the writer's
major works were banned, tourists stopped coming. The mouth of the cave
was cool and brought welcome relief from the stifling summer heat.
Rick set up a campfire right outside the cave. He got it started with
one match and Mike was impressed. Rick had been a secret member of an
illegal organization called the Cub Scouts up until he was eleven. Dan
Diamond was his troop leader and had taught Rick which plants were
edible. Rick set out to find some and returned a little while later to
roast the cattail cores he collected from the nearby creek. They sat
down to eat to the pepperoni, bread, and roasted cattail cores. Rick
prayed over his ration before he ate.
"Why do you do that?" Mike asked.
"I'm thanking God for the food."
"Why? Why do you talk to yourself every night before you go to
"It's called praying. I'm thanking God for something or asking for my
needs to be met or I'm telling Him I love Him. Mostly now I'm asking Him
"You ever hear a voice?"
"No, but I do feel better just about every time I do it."
After he finished eating Mike went outside to look for a weapon. Rick
finished and started looking around in a different area. On the property
were several abandoned buildings overgrown with weeds. Rick found an axe
handle in one and Mike brought back two mop handles. Mike sat down and
sharpened the mop handles with a carving knife he had stolen from the
When nightfall came they put out the fire and
hunkered down in the mouth of the cave. The sounds from deep inside the
cave were spooky and they both talked quietly about how this was
probably a bad choice. They stayed silent for a long time and listened.
Frogs and katydids chirped and cheeped outside. It became quite a
"I noticed back in Saint Louis that whenever the transgenics were around
the birds stopped singing."
"So you think they can't be out there now?"
"No, I don't think so." Rick got up and went deeper
into the cave. He knelt down on his knees and started praying quietly
out loud. When he finished he came back and lay down in the dirt at the
mouth of the cave.
"There is no God," Mike said.
"Then why are you afraid of death?" Rick asked back before his mind
could even react to Mike's statement and he shuddered at where the words
had come from. Mike didn't respond.
Eventually Rick went to sleep. It was a fitful
sleep. Now that he wasn't working twelve-hour shifts he missed being
with Angela. He was too afraid of her to ever try to go back but if the
three vampire girls showed up tonight he would have gladly let them
bleed him. He dreamed about them. Then he tried to dream about Jill but
couldn't. The conflict inside his lucid dream woke him up with a start.
Outside was still, no more insect and frog sounds.
Rick lay there shivering and clutching the
cracked axe handle. He prayed through gritted teeth the rest of the
night. No sounds but the eerie wind blowing through the cave and outside
what sounded like the enormous bat wings of the blood-drinking flying
transgenics circling above in the sky.
* * *
At dawn Rick rose first. He made sure the birds were singing and then
scrounged around to find something to boil water in. He finally found an
old metal bucket that could still hold water. He started another fire
and then kicked Mike's feet. Rick carefully hung the bucket at just the
right height so that it wouldn't burn.
Mike didn't wake up but started making
whimpering noises like he was having a nightmare. Rick kicked his feet
harder this time.
"Get up. It's your turn to fix a meal."
Mike awoke with a frightened look and then cursed. He got up to go
relieve himself far inside the cave. When he came back he went out to
collect some cattail cores then came back in and boiled them. He gave
Rick his breakfast on a large leaf and watched Rick pray over the food.
They ate the starchy cattail cores in silence for a while.
"So what was it like with our teacher? Angela is hot-as-sun."
"How do you know about me and her?"
"The last day I was with them Wayne told us she
was going to get you. You were talking to her in your sleep last night.
So what was it like?"
"If it was any of your business I'd tell you it was a nightmare."
"I don't feel sorry for you."
"Who is Jill? You were talking sweet to a Jill
"She's a girl who's probably dead now. Which way do you want go, Mike?"
"The guy we talked to in town said they were
restarting an old munitions factory up by Fort Madison."
"I don't want to work for the government
"Well, I'll take their dirty Ameros if you won't."
"They're not going to be paying with Amero dollars much longer."
"That's where I'm going. God tell you which way to go yet?"
Rick got up without answering. They both
collected everything they wanted to take and started south. Mike's plan
was to go south, find a road going west to the mega-freeway and then try
to hitch a ride north into what used to be Iowa. Neither of them wanted
to go through any towns or cities again. The locals were all forted up
and Rick could feel their hostility towards transient humans. Transient
humans did not have Protected Group Status.
The morning was muggy and hot again. The road they walked on ran
alongside the Mississippi River. Everything looked normal except there
was no traffic at all on the road and no boats out on the river. But the
birds were singing so Rick and Mike kept walking. Rick decided to part
ways with Mike today but wanted to get somewhere first.
"Why do you believe there is a God?" Mike asked.
"We believe, have faith, from reading the Holy Bible and praying," Rick
answered after thinking about it for a minute.
"What does that mean? Can you explain to me what 'faith' means?"
"No, I can't. If you don't have it I can't explain it. But there are
some things to consider."
"Like what?" Mike asked.
"Well, like this place, these trees, this planet, the sun shining down
on us just right for life to flourish, all of that is possible in too
narrow a range for it to be an accident."
"If you have an infinite amount of time anything is bound to
accidentally happen sooner or later."
"An Infinite amount of time is not possible," Rick retorted. "If there
was infinity before us there would be no way the universe could ever
reach this point or any other point in time. The cosmologists all say
both the universe and time exploded out of nothing, and they both began
together. If you want someone to believe in an extraordinary occurrence
you have to present extraordinary evidence for it. There is nothing more
extraordinary than claiming the universe and time exploded out of
nothing but that's what some scientists say happened and they have no
evidence anywhere that something can ever come out of nothing. There has
to be a creator outside of time and space. Think about how mathematical
time is. It's so mathematical it's inexorable. Never makes mistakes,
never loses or gains a millisecond. But it had a beginning and someday
it's going to end. Only a mind can create mathematics and only a perfect
mind can create something perfect and inexorable like time."
Rick stopped talking and took a drink of water. The air was hot and hazy
already but shade from the big leafy hardwood trees along the road gave
them some relief. He was using one of Mike's spears as a walking stick;
the old axe handle had given him splinters so he had left it. They
walked on in silence for half a mile down the dusty road and listened
for any changes in the droning of the cicadas and then Mike started in
"Maybe there is something, some kind of higher
intelligence or Supreme Being or whatever you define it as, but that
doesn't mean it's your God."
"That's right. You're right; it doesn't. Some people are what they call
deist. They believe God created the universe and then just let
everything go by itself. No interference, no help."
"That sounds right. There's too much random stuff that happens. There's
no plan behind all the stupid accidents people have."
"Christians do believe in accidents and free
will that goes bad. Things do get chaotic, no doubt about it. We're not
puppets and the weather isn't a puppet. But all real Christians believe
in miracles, that God can intervene directly or through people
that are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. That's why we pray; we're trying
to change something in this world by appealing for help from outside of
"What's the Holy Spirit?" Mike asked.
"The Holy Spirit is a limited form God takes by indwelling Christians so
that they can do His will. There are three forms of God, kind of like
the three forms of water. You know, vapor, liquid, and ice. It's called
the Holy Trinity. The Father is the unlimited, omnipotent form of God.
The Son is Jesus Christ, who is God in the form of a man. The Holy
Spirit is the form, like I said, that operates through Christians to
change things for the better in this world and bring glory to the
"Who was Jesus Christ?" Mike asked.
is Jesus Christ is the right question. Jesus was born a
flesh-and-blood man from a virgin woman, but He was God in the form of a
man. He is the only human being who never sinned. He was perfect. It was
necessary for Jesus, who was perfect and sinless, to be sacrificed for
the human race to have the possibility, the choice really, of
reconciliation with God the Father. There is no other way for evil
creatures like us to be accepted by a perfect, righteous God unless all
of our sin can be taken away somehow. If you pray to God the Father and
say out loud that you accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior,
confess and repent of your sins, and believe that He rose from the dead,
that He defeated death, then you can be born again. You'll have
salvation and eternal life. You'll be a new man that's in the process of
becoming more and more like Christ as time goes on. It's called
"Jesus is a revolutionary. You really do have
to read the Holy Bible to understand what I'm talking about. He preached
against the petty social engineering the religious leaders back then
tried to make the people live by."
"Like the 50 ethics codes we had to memorize in
grade school," Mike said.
"Right, but especially He preached against social Darwinism. He was a
warrior, but He took the battle inside. Outside, all the evil of fallen
humanity and fallen nature, the outrages people do to each other, evil
governments and people preying on each other, all of those are just
symptoms of original sin. Jesus understood that the battle is inside."
"So how is your battle going?" Mike asked.
"My battle is going bad. I thought I repented what I did with Angela,
but the truth is I haven't. I just want the same thing but under
different circumstances, get some beauty under my thumb. I'm not sure I
can beat it."
Mike chuckled and then told Rick he was sorry. They walked on in silence
for another half an hour. The road veered away from the river and the
sun kept beating down.
"Tell me some more about what Jesus did," Mike asked.
"I'm the wrong person to be educating you about Jesus." Rick didn't want
to talk about religion any more.
"You're all I've got," Mike said back. "You went to church for eighteen
years; you must know something."
"My mother didn't start going back to church until after I was three."
"Just tell me what he did to make you and the
other Christians believe he was God in a man's flesh-and-blood body."
"He said He was God. That's what He told his disciples. Only someone
very evil or insane says something like that. But the other things He
said and did were not insane or evil. They were the opposite.
"One time these officials, I guess you could
say they were like prosecuting attorneys for the religious leaders back
then, these official men brought a woman before Him who had been caught
committing adultery. In that culture anyone caught committing adultery
was supposed to be stoned to death in public. Jesus was teaching a big
group of people and these officials brought this woman before Him and
said she had been caught in the act. They asked Him what should be done
with her. They were trying to trap Him with a yes-or-no question. They
knew He was preaching love and mercy but He also said He was here to
enforce the laws of God. So they knew if He said, go ahead stone her to
death, it would go against His message of forgiveness and if He said,
don't execute her, it would look like He was approving of a vile sin.
"Jesus didn't say anything for a few minutes to let them stew and then
told them, 'Go ahead and execute her. But only the man without sin can
throw the first stone.' One by one this mob that had circled up with
rocks in their hands dropped them and walked away. But Jesus didn't let
the woman off either. He told her to go but ordered her never to commit
adultery again. Only Jesus could have given that answer. No one else, no
religious leader or philosopher of any kind in all of history before
then could have given that answer. There is no one like Jesus. He is the
son of God."
Mike was nonplussed. The rest of the morning he only
spoke to ask Rick to tell him more about the Holy Bible. Rick taught him
about original sin, the Ten Commandments, the miracles and some of the
parables of Jesus, the conversion and teachings of Saint Paul, and
finally the prophecies in the book of Daniel and the book of Revelation.
They came to a crossroads with a sign for a
small hamlet called Saverton. On the left a mile away was the hamlet on
the bank of the Mississippi and on the right ran the road 13 miles to
mega-freeway that ran north-south all the way to Mexico.
Mike stopped. He looked at Rick in a way Rick
never saw before. His blue eyes were different. His scarred face and his
head had a three-day brown suede stubble. He looked old from the neck
up. Rick stopped and they faced each other.
"Hell is real. I've seen it. I've dreamed it
every night for over a month. I just didn't know there was a heaven
"Why are you telling me?" Rick dropped the bucket onto the road.
"I helped murder Tyler. Me and Doug and Bad
Henry went with Wayne. He had it all planned out with your teacher. She
had her agents hack into the phone system and they got Tyler's cell
phone number from your cell phone records. She could track all of you
after you gave her your cell phone number.
"We took a car from Browner's used car lot and followed him that Friday
night. We almost lost him at the Rush ferry. It was like he couldn't
make up his mind about where he was going to go. He was talking to Debra
Sterling when we rammed his little car. We had a magnetic flashing
police light on the top of our car and he thought we were cops so he had
"We took him to an old camper we had parked out
at Bad Henry's place. Dean Browner had gotten Wayne's two dogs enhanced
into monsters and we let them tear Tyler up."
"Why? What brought you down to that?"
"I wanted to be on the winning side. I liked
the parties Wayne had. You Christians get picked on a lot, except for
Davy-Jake and your sister. I sure didn't want to be on your side after
what Wayne told us was going to happen to all the Christians and Jews.
"There's more. The next day we set the two terato dogs out on Davy-Jake
and your sister when they were rock climbing in the big sink hole.
Davy-Jake put them both down. It was something. After they got out we
buried Tyler next to where they buried the terato dogs. We framed them,
got them arrested."
Rick aimed his spear at Mike's chest. Mike
brought his spear point down and aimed at Rick's chest. They were about
fifteen feet apart.
"What do you think you're going to do now?"
"What you said about a sinner's heart becoming
too hard to repent; that's happened to me."
"You can't tell God who to give grace to."
"You're pointing a spear at me and at the same
time you're telling me about God's grace. Pretty conflicted, Machado."
"I guess that's how it is. I almost killed you
when I first recognized you. I got conflicted then, too. I'm a lot less
"Just in case you win, I want you to do me a big favor."
"I'll put it at the top of my list."
"I want you to go find my sister and tell her about salvation. I want
you to tell her everything you told me and make sure she gets a Holy
Bible she can read."
"You're conning me. You don't have a sister."
"I have a half sister. She lives in Bluff City. My dad's old girlfriend
lives on 54 South Thrush Street. My sister's name is Melissa Harris.
She's eleven years old."
Rick gradually put his spear tip back up and Mike did the same. Rick
took some deep breaths. He felt like he just escaped a trap.
"I have to get back to Moreau County alive. I
don't want to be like that rich man who died and then couldn't warn his
brothers about hell."
"I'm going with you," Rick said. "Once we get
done talking to your sister, I'm going to turn you in to whatever law
enforcement is left down there. We need to get my sister and Davy-Jake
out of Jail."
"Okay, I'll shake on it," Mike said.
The two cautiously shook hands and then started
south. Mike estimated they were about eighty miles upriver from the
Moreau County Mississippi ferry dock. Mike started jogging south of the
crossroads and Rick began running too. Rick had been on the cross
country team in high school and had better lungs than Mike but Mike kept
trying to run even after he was out of breath.
The road south became more and more winding. On the right was the cool
shade of the tree covered hills and on the left was the scorching, flat
river floodplain. They rounded a curve and came upon two bicycles lying
in the middle of the road. In the weeds nearby were two bodies, one man
and one woman, who had been bled to death. Rick knelt down and prayed
over them. He looked up at Mike but he just shook his head. He couldn't
Mike decided to take a bike but Rick worried they would be blamed by the
locals for the murders. After hesitating a few seconds he got on the
bike anyway and started riding to catch up with Mike.
One time a pickup truck sped around a curve and
roared past them going north. It was a close call so they slowed down
around the curves. They stopped once to finish the pepperoni and drink
water and then rode hard.
* * *
Seven hours later Rick and Mike rolled up to the ferry dock south of
Riverton. They left the bikes and walked over to the wide river's
bank. Through the late afternoon haze they could barely discern that
the ferry boat had sunk close to the Moreau County side of the river
bank. The ferry was on its side, waves lapping onto the side
protruding out of the water. The river stank worse than Rick could
Rick told Mike that Dan Diamond probably sunk the ferry and probably
sunk the one on the Rush River too. Moreau County was like a long skinny
island sandwiched between two rivers with no bridges. The pair looked
around for something floating and soon Rick spotted a canoe stuck in
some weeds in shallow water. When they waded out to get it they
discovered the little boat swarming with flies and covered in dried
Rick and Mike looked at each other but then
washed the canoe out as best they could. They dragged it out of the
water onto the shore then carried it upriver a couple hundred yards.
Rick found some tangled fishing line and they used it to tie pieces of
board to their spears to make paddles.
It was still light out when the pair took to the river but evening was
coming within the hour. They paddled out to the middle of the river
channel but then both the boards came off and they had to scoop the
brown river water with their hands to make progress.
"How did you say a person knows he's really
saved and not just deluding himself?"
"If you have a special love for other Christians," Rick answered. "If
you have love for them and want to help them even if you've never met
them, you're saved."
"Make sure you tell her that." Mike splashed river water onto his face
to get the sweat off his forehead.
"You're going to tell her."
They kept paddling with their hands to get out of the channel. Rick
thought he saw a beaver or muskrat a hundred feet downriver. It dived.
They finally were more than two-thirds across the half-mile-wide river
but the current was picking up. If they didn't make it to the Moreau
County bank before the sunken ferry they would be swept downstream past
the confluence of the Mississippi and Rush Rivers towards Saint Louis.
As they neared the river bank Rick saw the
animal again, about forty feet away this time. It was the top of a head
with long reddish hair trailing behind. The wake behind it was too big
even for a beaver. It disappeared again without Mike seeing it.
"Listen," Mike said. "I don't hear anything.
There aren't any birds in the sky either."
"I know. There's a transgenic following us. It just dived under us."
They were reaching for their spears when a girl's head emerged from the
silt brown water in front of them. The hair was in the face at first but
then her hands parted the hair revealing a familiar face but with blue
eyes. Rick shuddered.
"Well, well, well," Kim said and smiled showing her new peg teeth.
"Looks like I'll get a birthday present after all. It's Ricky Machado,
blond now, huh? And is that Mike Pitcher? What a funny combination to be
canoeing together this late afternoon."
"What did you do to yourself?" Rick's voice was breaking. Kim looked
like an aquatic ghoul. She rose up out of the water revealing herself
even more. The breasts and the rest of the upper half of her body were
splotched with black leeches.
"You don't like my new look? I didn't do this to myself; you did it to
me. Where's your teacher girlfriend? I saw you two in front of school
going at it. You really did a number on me and look at the result."
"You've got leeches on you," Rick said.
"You were the biggest parasite!" Kim's shrill
voice seemed to bounce off the top of the water.
"Get out of here!" Mike shouted. "Rick, keep paddling. This is a trap.
She left the canoe floating over there so someone would try to cross.
There're probably more of them. Get out of here!" Mike jabbed at Kim
with his mop handle spear and she moved back. They were about twenty
feet from the sunken ferry.
"God, please forgive me," Rick pleaded. He felt
"Nobody's going to forgive you, Ricky," Kim said.
"Rick, help me paddle!"
Rick carefully stood up pointing his spear at
Kim. "Whatever you are, you're not Kim Lemon any more."
"What a thing to say, Rick. Oh, here's my new boyfriend. Guys,
Rick and Mike turned around realizing it was
too late. Right next to the canoe a merman three times larger than a
normal man emerged from under water. The transgenic's pointed head
looked like a sasquatch, purple eyes with no whites, and the rest of
him, except for the red beard on the face, was covered with short,
reddish brown seal fur. In one of his oversized hands he held a trident
made out of scarlet stainless steel.
Neptune stabbed at Rick with the trident but he
dodged down just in time. The beast reared up over him but Mike jabbed
at the aquatic monster with his spear and the canoe capsized.
Rick swam under water to the sunken ferry. He
touched the ferry and surfaced. Kim was right behind him. The thing
whose upper half still looked like his former girlfriend snatched at his
legs as he climbed up out of the water onto the side of the ferry.
Rick watched in horror as Neptune lifted up Mike impaled through the
back on the trident. Neptune gave an unearthly scream revealing sea lion
fangs as he held Mike high in the air with one oversized arm. Mike's
lips moved and then blood gushed out of his mouth. His eyes rolled back
in his head and his lips stopped moving.
"No! You got the wrong one! I wanted this one!"
Kim looked back at Rick with complete menace in her eyes. But Neptune
turned and swam towards the channel still holding Mike's body high above
his head. Five other ghoulish mermaids closely followed the merman.
Kim swam back and forth in front of Rick for a while. Rick had to be
careful because the side of the ferry protruding from the river was
tilted and slick. He stabilized himself then turned away from Kim.
"Look at me! Look at me!"
"I rebuke you," Rick said as loudly and calmly as he could. "By the
blood of Christ I rebuke you."
In the distance Neptune roared again. Kim
finally dived, splashing water on Rick with her river dolphin tail. He
turned to watch Kim surface forty feet away then quickly disappear out
into the darkening river.
Rick carefully crawled on the sunken ferry towards the bank. He almost
made it but then slipped off and hit the water. It was neck deep and he
ran in slow motion through the muck on the bottom to get to shore. He
stumbled out without any shoes or socks and jogged across the ferry ramp
to the paved road. He ran about a mile along the road past abandoned
houses until he got to a grove of trees next to an old antiques shop. He
hid behind the trees and dropped to his face. He prayed for Mike and for
himself and then blacked out.
There were over three hundred people at the double wedding of Dan and
Sara and Davy-Jake and Lydia. Reverend Mandal was there with forty-five
other Indian Christians. Everyone cheered when the two couples came out
of the church. The reception was held outside in the big open area
between the parking lot and the tree line.
After Lydia shoved the piece of cake up into Davy-Jake's face, the
fiddles and guitars and drums came out and everyone danced. The music
was a combination of bluegrass and salsa.
After dancing half the morning with most of the males including
twelve-year-old Roscoe Diamond, Sara Diamond sat down with some punch to
cool off. It was the last day of June, hot and muggy. Through the
morning haze and heat waves she watched a gaunt male figure walk up next
to the church from the gravel road that wound down hill.
Sara realized who it was before she could make out the face. She got up
from the picnic table, kicked off her shoes, and ran. She picked up the
hem of her wedding dress, running as fast as she could.
When she got up close to Rick she hardly recognized him. On his face was
a three-day stubble of black fuzz. He now had blond hair with black
roots and his eyes were blue instead of brown. He wore cheap blue denim
filthy with dried mud and was barefoot.
Sara took his face into her hands and looked
deeply into his eyes. She could see and feel some of what had happened
to him. He seemed dazed by the aroma of barbecue chicken and the sight
of hundreds of normal-looking people on the church grounds decorated
with red, white, and blue American flags. American flags displayed out
in the open.
"Rick, is that you?" she asked, but she already knew. She just wanted to
hear his voice.
"Yeah, it's me, Mom," he said and she wrapped her arms around him. She
praised God over and over sobbing at the same time.
* * *
The music stopped and a hundred people gathered
around. Rick noticed his sister Lydia and Davy-Jake hanging back. His
mother finally let him go and the crowd started welcoming him but then
Sheriff Dan Diamond dragged him inside the metal tool shed. He stationed
Judson Hawkingson outside to keep everyone including Sara out. He shut
the door and started interrogating Rick.
"Are you really Rick Machado?"
"Yes, it's me." After just a few seconds inside the shed Rick was
"Why do you have blue eyes now?" Dan asked.
"They're contacts. I had to change my
appearance to fool the biometric scanners." Rick tried to get them out
but had difficulty because he had left them in too many days. He finally
got them both out and looked his new father-in-law in the eye. Dan
grunted and continued.
"Did they give you any injections? Were you exposed to any sick animals?
We have to know if they exposed you to any diseases that might infect
the rest of us."
"No and no, I wasn't exposed to anything like that." Rick sat down on
the seat of the riding lawn mower.
"You didn't go through any kind of transgenic
procedure?" Dan asked.
"No," Rick said. "I ran away from her when we stopped at a convenience
store right before I was supposed to get it done. I'm not transgenic or
"I'm sorry I had to drag you into this hot shed to question you like
this, Rick, but I had to make sure you weren't sent to do us more harm.
So she was neogenic?"
"You know about the neogenes?" Rick asked.
"Oh yeah, Israeli intelligence keeps us up to
date on all that."
"They have incredible abilities," Rick said.
"What they've lost is even more incredible,"
Dan said. "Tell me, do animals act strangely around the neogenes like
they do around the transgenics?"
"No, I think animals just ignore the neogenes," Rick answered. "Dan, I
have to do something here and then I have to leave. I have to talk to
Mike Pitcher's half-sister about salvation through Jesus Christ. He's
dead now but I swore I would do that for him. After I talk to her I have
to get out of this county so you all aren't targeted."
"Listen, Rick, we're all targeted anyway. Your mother is a strong woman
but your disappearance almost killed her. If you leave again it probably
will kill her. Whatever we have to face we'll be better off facing it
together. You're home, son."
Dan came out with Rick and gave him back to Sara. They hosed him off and
found him some clean clothes and shoes that fit. After he ate two paper
plates full of barbecue chicken and potato salad, Sara preened and
fussed over him for a half an hour and then Pastor Sterling took him
inside the church. He gave Rick a Holy Bible then left him alone.
Rick sat down on the pew and randomly opened
the Bible to Genesis 6. He read about evil beings from the spirit world
ravishing beautiful human women, producing offspring that grew to be
abominable giants. God was angry because of this wickedness and prepared
to destroy the world with a great flood. Rick closed the Bible and put
his face in his hands.
* * *
Pastor Sterling came back in and sat down next
to Rick. He asked Rick to tell him what he knew about Kim Lemon. Rick
told him everything.
"I have more faith now than ever before, but I'm more confused than
ever," Rick said. "I believe Mike Pitcher was saved and I believe Kim is
damned. I don't understand it. Kim never hurt anybody before in her
life. She went to church. She was kind to people. She was kind to me.
Mike was a murderer. He helped murder my best friend."
"You think you're the only one confused?"
Pastor Sterling spoke in a stern voice Rick wasn't used to hearing.
"What about Kim's parents? After she sent them an insulting text message
telling them she was getting enhanced, they both had breakdowns. They
couldn't even pray for her. They knew it wouldn't do any good. They sold
their house and their stocks and donated the money to this church but of
course that didn't change anything. And what about me? I baptized Kim
when she was a twelve."
"Why doesn't God look at it like an illness?"
Rick asked. "Like someone with a drug addiction or a mental illness?"
"I don't know. I can't answer you, Rick."
"If she hadn't seen me with Angela that night would she still have a
"I don't know," Pastor Sterling repeated. "No one but our Heavenly
Father can answer your questions. I do know this: This life is serious.
It's a serious business. How we treat each other matters and how we
treat ourselves matters. The Eastern religions teach this existence is a
sham but it doesn't feel like a sham does it?"
"No," Rick answered.
"It's not a sham," Pastor Sterling said. "It's not all there is, but it
is real. Our Lord said that the road to hell is wide, the path to
salvation hard for most people to find. It may be that most people are
too mediocre for salvation."
"Mediocre?" Rick said and shook his head. "What about evil? I'll take
mediocre over evil any day."
"You're not God," Pastor Sterling retorted.
"Consider this: People who cannot stop themselves from doing evil are
pretty rare, maybe one in a hundred? They're a small percentage of the
population. Then how is it that so much evil gets done? It's because the
mediocre masses allow it. They allow people to starve or mass murders to
happen so long as it doesn't affect them directly. They appease evil
because inside they are evil. Their thought life is just as evil as the
mass murderer, but they don't express it, probably out of fear for their
own safety. At least the people who are evil have passion. Sometimes
evil people can leverage their passion into accepting salvation, if
their hearts don't harden first. You have to have some kind of intensity
of spirit to knock on His door."
"But we all have bad thoughts," Rick said.
"True, but Christians who are born-again have the Holy Spirit, which
teaches us what thoughts are evil, and gradually trains us not to think
them." The pastor ran his fingers through his white hair and looked away
from Rick. After a minute of silence he turned back. "Listen, Rick, I
need your help."
"You need my help?"
"Yes, I can't face Kim's parents alone with what you've told me," the
pastor said. "They have to be told what their daughter is now and
I just can't face them by myself. I want you to come with me tomorrow.
We'll go visit Mike Pitcher's little sister together too."
"Okay," Rick said after pausing for a second.
"I know this is going to be painful for you,
and I'm not sure what reaction Kim's parents will have after you tell
them the sequence of events, but I'm sure facing them will help your
healing process and mine. Whether it helps theirs will be up to them.
Oh, one more thing." Pastor Sterling pulled out his cell phone, unfolded
it, and went through his messages. "I just got an encrypted text message
for an 'M', then a phone number, and then it spelled out r-i-c-k--m-a-c-h-a-d-o.
You know who this could be from?"
"Yes, it's from Jill." Rick said quickly. "She and her cousin were
the girls who gave me a ride, helped me get away from Angela. I thought
they were both dead."
"Well, here, use my phone. Send her a message
back telling her you're safe. Dan wants to talk to you again in a few
minutes." Pastor Sterling gave Rick his cell phone and left. Rick sent
an encrypted text message to the phone number Jill had given and she
immediately text-messaged back.
* * *
Rick didn't look up from the phone until
Sheriff Dan Diamond stood in front of him in the quiet church. The
sheriff asked him to tell the entire story of his time away from Moreau
County. Rick told it in detail and then Dan filled him in on what had
"It must be that Kim and her little gang of river monsters have been
active at that crossing for about five days, starting just one day after
the ferry was sunk," Dan said. "We've had reports of three or four
people missing down there."
"Any other attacks?" Rick asked.
"No, but our citizens are reporting a lot of
big, weird things flying around at night. They're probing us. Tell me
some more about Angela and the other neogenes."
"They don't sleep but she was obsessed with staring at me when I was
asleep dreaming," Rick said. "All she ate were these dietary supplements
she kept in refrigeration."
"Do they have any religious beliefs?" Dan
"No, they're materialist atheists, but they're
about to start a phony multi-media religion combining Santeria,
Druidism, Obi, other occult-type religions. She said there are a lot
more adherents to those kinds of religions than most secular people
realize. Dean and Wayne Browner are going to be big-shots in the new
priesthood. Part of their Plan is to get everyone hooked on watching
real human sacrifices on live netcasts."
"You've actually seen the Plan?" Dan asked.
"Yeah, I read it all," Rick said.
"You don't say? That sounds really valuable,
Rick. Did she have any artwork with symbols? Any books?"
"No artwork but she had some books in Portuguese by Sebastiao, some
English translations of a German philosopher named Nietzsche, and she
had a Turkish translation of a book by that dictator of Germany during
World War Two. The Nazi guy, I forget his name."
"Oh, yeah, that guy," Dan said. "That book has been a best-seller in the
Middle-East for the last one hundred and forty years."
"I guess it was her father's." Rick swallowed
hard because his mouth was dry. Suddenly the grim reality that Angela
was hunting for him right this second hit and he swallowed hard again.
"She really thought she had you beat down but
you got back up and motivated yourself right out of her world. You know,
Rick, I've seen a lot of guys stir up hornet's nests with females before
but you take the prize. Think about it. Of all the women on this planet
you picked the worst one to get tangled up with. The very worst one.
Think about the odds."
"It's not funny," Rick said.
"Then why are you smiling, boy?" Dan's
blue-grey eyes twinkled.
"You're making me." Rick's smile grew larger.
"She's going to boil you alive like a lobster if she catches up with
you," he said.
"It's not funny; she's a fiend."
"Well, no matter what happens in the future
you're going to strike a blow against her and all the rest of those
demigod wannabes today. First, I want you to detail on paper what the
Plan says. Next, you're going to sneak back to her apartment in Bluff
City to see if you can collect some of her food tablets. I just bet she
left them in there. Make sure you keep them in a cooler with ice.
Probably there are some rare ingredients in them. We have people all
over the world that can disrupt their supplies once we know what their
critical control points are. We can hit them where it counts."
"Where are you going to take them to get analyzed?" Rick asked.
"I'm taking your mother on a honeymoon down to
a little bed and breakfast in the Shawnee Forest. Things are still
pretty normal down in the South. After our honeymoon I'm going to report
to the secret tunnel complex we have built up down there. We still have
Special Forces who never surrendered living in and guarding our massive
complex. They're down to less than five hundred men and women now, but
this past thirty years they kept expanding the tunnels. Thanks to them
you can drive a truck underground all the way from western Maryland to
eastern Kansas. We learned quit a bit from the Chu Chi and Tora Bora
tunnel complexes, and we improved on them considerably."
"So we are going to war?" Rick asked. "The Israelis are going to help us
get our country back? Is that why the American flags are flying out in
Dan looked away from Rick. To Rick he had
always seemed a big man even though he was really just average height.
His badge was shining in the church's bright light. Rick had always seen
him standing up straight but now the man's shoulders slumped. He turned
back to Rick.
"I know you're in a hole right now, Rick. What happened to Kim, it's
horrible. But I was in a deeper hole. I killed over eleven hundred of my
fellow countrymen during the war. Did you know that?"
"No," Rick answered. "You never talked about the war."
"I was a sniper and I set remote-controlled bombs," Dan said. "Those
boys and girls from the blue cities thought they were tough but we just
slaughtered them. They didn't want to be trained militarily so they
marched out with their U.N. banners and their AK-47s and got
slaughtered. One day in January I shot and killed over a hundred college
students who marched out from the University of Wisconsin. It was at a
bridge up north on the Rock River. From my position on a hillside above
the river the blood puddles growing under their heads looked like red
roses blooming in the snow. When I close my eyes I can see it clearer
than I see you now.
"As you know, right as we were about to take
the cities, the E.U. invaded the East Coast with a million European
Moslem jihadists hot for our blood. The Chinese hit the West Coast but
we were still holding our own in the South and West and most of the
Midwest but then the people, our rural people, gave out on us. They
agreed with the rest of the world that our Constitution was too rigid,
that we needed to dump it to fit in.
"I was seventeen when my commander surrendered.
They wanted to send me to The Hague to the prison with the President but
I was under eighteen so they kept me for a year and then turned me
loose. They couldn't even put it on my record, so I was still eligible
to work in law enforcement. I was classified as a 'forced child
soldier.' Any way, I was in this reintegration camp the E.U. was running
at the old prison up in Joliet, and I swore to myself that I would never
again shed human blood to give pearls to swine. Democracy is never
enough. You have to have moral Judeo-Christian people, people filled
with the Holy Spirit, to make democracy work, and we just don't have
enough of them any more."
"So what are we going to accomplish by fighting them?" Rick asked.
"Probably what is going to happen is we'll have
to move all the Christians and whatever religious Jews we can find into
the tunnel complex. Over three years ago Sebastiao made a secret peace
treaty with Israel to keep them quiet, but it looks like The U.N. is
launching military satellites armed with microwave and particle beam
weapons, so the Israelis are planning to go ahead and announce to the
world that they're still alive. It's going to be a world war."
* * *
Later that afternoon Rick borrowed a bicycle and peddled the eleven
miles north into Bluff City. There were no cars on the roads just like
everywhere else. He was surprised at how many houses sat empty in the
county seat. The few people he saw either looked frightened or hostile.
When he got to the Browner-owned apartment complex he had second
thoughts. What if Angela or her agents were inside waiting?
Rick laid the bike down and took a long drink
from his bottle of water. The late afternoon sun beat down and
everything was still. He was just going to kick the door in but at the
last minute decided to try to talk to the apartment manager. An elderly
lady answered when he knocked on the office door. He showed her his new
deputy sheriff badge and explained that he was part of the team
investigating a possible connection between the teacher that lived in
apartment 118 and the high school students who murdered Tyler Pandav.
She agreed to let him in.
The apartment was the same as when Angela had
hurried him out. Had it really been ten weeks ago? He found that she
left most of her dietary supplement bottles in the refrigerator. He put
ice from the freezer compartment into his small cooler chest and then
carefully packed the bottles of tablets inside.
Rick decided to look around in the bedroom drawers and by chance found
his cell phone. The cell phone battery still had a charge so he turned
it on and scrolled down the long list of frantic messages from his
mother and then saw Kim's message. He paused for a second then went
ahead and read it. It was like she was cursing him from beyond the
grave. He dropped the phone, sat down on the bed and covered his face
with his hands. After a few minutes he got up and left. He had to get
all the way out to Dan's farm and didn't have much daylight left.
* * *
Dan Diamond's organic farm was ringed with his sheriff's police and
posse members. Rick had no trouble getting through the three security
checkpoints but the men's faces were all grim. When Rick rode up into
the driveway in front of the garage next to the big two-story
farmhouse, Dan's two closest friends, Judson Hawkinson and Noah Johnson,
a husky fifty-three-year-old African-American, welcomed him. Rick parked
the bike then looked inside the open garage and saw Dan sitting on his
seventy-seven-year-old Harley Davidson. The sheriff got off the
motorcycle and walked over to Rick.
"She left most of them," Rick said.
"Good work," Dan said. He opened it to look them over then stuffed the
little cooler into one of his motorcycle's saddle bags. Rick handed him
his nineteen-page summary of the Plan. Dan took a few minutes to look it
over then carefully folded it and put it into the other saddle bag.
"Listen, Rick," Dan said and put his hand on Rick's shoulder. "I'm
putting you in charge of all the young posse members. Anybody under
twenty-one will have to answer to you."
"What about Davy-Jake?" Rick asked.
"Davy-Jake's your number two," Dan said. "I just want you answering to
Judson and Noah while I'm gone."
"Why me?" Rick asked.
"I'll tell you why," Dan said. "Their little conspiracy almost worked.
We were this close to having a bad split between the Indian Christians
and the Anglo Christians. You have the best relations with the Indian
Christians and you know what's been going on outside of this county.
Almost no one else does. You don't have any illusions. Just about
everybody including that hard-headed brother-in-law of yours thinks this
is going to be like a spring flood where we get cut off from the outside
for a week and neighbors have visits and everybody eats canned food. You
and I know this is no adventure. It's the Tribulation or it's the
nearest thing to it yet. Try to communicate that to your troopers and
especially to Davy-Jake.
"Rick, Davy-Jake has built up a wall around
himself ever since his daddy got murdered. He thinks he's safe behind
his little wall but I'm afraid reality is going to come crashing
through. If something ever happens to his mother or little brother or
God forbid his beautiful new bride, I'm not sure he'll be able to stand
up, and we're going to need him. The young Christian guys we have here
are great but they just don't have any background for fighting. They'll
have to fight only with their hearts and what little training Judson and
Noah can give them this next week."
"When are you coming back?" Rick asked.
"A week at least, probably more," Dan said. "I might come back in a
surprising way with some special presents no one has seen around here
for a long time."
"Guns?" Rick asked.
"We'll see. Maybe the Forth of July fireworks will come just a few days
late this year." Dan turned and called for Sara to come out and see her
* * *
A beaming Sara Diamond came out of the big farmhouse. Real joy had
ambushed her this day. She looked around at the pheasants and the
spotted pacas grazing inside the fenced-in area around the main barn
then came down the steps and hugged Noah and then best-man Judson.
"I love you!" she said to both men. "I love those beautiful birds and I
love those over-sized guinea pigs. This is the happiest day of my life."
"Oh, you don't love us; you just love that old
grouch over there," Noah said and nodded towards Dan.
"I love everybody!" Sara said and then pointed
at Judson. "You're next."
"You're going to marry me next?" Judson was a thirty-two-year-old
"No, but you are going to get married, and I
know who the bride's going to be too." She looked confident but Judson
just stood there shaking his shaggy blond head.
"Come on, girl, get on back," Dan said. "We've got to get where we're
going before dark."
"Your motorcycle?" Sara said. "It's illegal to ride those things on the
roads. You're going to kill me on the happiest day of my life."
"You've got to go two hundred and forty kilometers south," Judson said.
"That old thing is going to break down for sure."
Sara went to Rick and hugged him. He noticed she held a rolled up paper.
She smoothed his hair and held his face again then gave him his high
school diploma. Principal Woodruff and most of the teachers left the
county with Dean Browner after Judson read the Declaration of
Independence in front of the county building. The schools closed a week
before graduation but the school janitor who was Christian secretly took
all the diplomas from the school office and passed them out. Rick had no
idea this piece of paper called a diploma would mean this much to him.
"Don't you go any where with any older woman
while I'm gone," Sara said.
"I'll be here when you get back, Mom," Rick said.
Dan Diamond kick-started the motorcycle and the
old gasoline engine roared to life. Sara got on back and wrapped her
arms around her groom's waist.
"I'll take good care of your mother," Dan
shouted above the revving motorcycle engine.
"How do you know the Shawnee Forest isn't swarming with transgenics?"
Rick shouted back.
"There's a plague of rabid raccoons in the Shawnee," Dan shouted. "Has
been for over a month. Everybody knows to keep out of there."
"A plague of rabid raccoons?" Rick shouted.
"Must be some rabid raccoons somewhere!" Noah
shouted and they all laughed.
"There are about a hundred teratos in
Carbondale," Judson shouted.
"I intend to avoid that little university
metropolis," Dan shouted and then the motorcycle engine roared and they
rumbled off. Everyone waved as Dan and his bride headed north on a
little county road that wound through the marsh. They got into the next
county then turned east to cross the bridge over the Rush River and
* * *
Three days later the power went off all up and down the Mississippi
River Valley. That night the power was still off. About midnight a gang
of forty-three flying transgenics attacked the Sunnyland Nursing Home.
They swooped down from the pitch black sky and overpowered the two
guards Judson stationed outside. They burst into the nursing home with
echoing screams. The creatures killed and feasted on the blood of all
ninety-eight helpless people inside except for one nurse who hid in a
broom closet. Helen Gunther was Sara's best friend, and she managed to
keep her head and use her cell phone to quietly call for help.
Right before dawn Rick Machado and all seventy of the under-twenty-one
posse members, minus honey-mooning Davy-Jake, rode in on bicycles. They
stormed the nursing home and caught two chupracabras still drinking
blood from a dead elderly man who had tried to hide under his bed.
"We found the old man dead," the dominant half vampire bat-half man
said. He did not seem concerned about being caught. "You'll get
prosecuted for this!" he screamed when Rick tried to capture the
hideous, one-hundred-pound creature with a stun gun. The weapon just
wasn't effective on the thing so Rick unsheathed the Civil War sword he
had taken from the museum. The dominant chupracabra pounced, clawing
down Rick's chest as it bit into his left hand. Rick finally managed to
plunge the sword into the transgenic's chest, killing him. He ordered
his posse to attack the other one with axes and sharpened spades.
After it was over Rick admonished four of his troopers for responding
too slowly when he ordered them to attack. After he chewed them out he
ordered the burning of the chupracabra bodies and the collecting of the
human dead for burial. When they were all busy he walked outside into
the pre-dawn darkness, found a tree uphill away from everyone and threw
up behind it. He stumbled back down to the nursing home to find Nurse
Helen inside the flashlight-lit house of death.
"You're lucky you didn't lose this finger," Helen said as she stitched
around the base of his left pinky finger. He marveled at her calmness
and wondered if the hand would ever work the same again. "Who gave you
the black eye? Was it Kim Lemon's father?"
"No, it was her mother. Mr. Lemon and Pastor Sterling could barely hold
her back so I could get out of there."
"Good for her." But Helen finished bandaging his chest with a comradely
smile then left to help with the burials.
* * *
Four days after the massacre at the nursing home, Debra Sterling woke up
with a start. She had been having a very bad dream but could not
remember it. As her usual morning grogginess faded away she felt relief.
In fact she became elated at the thought of this new day. Debra knew
something extraordinary and beautiful was going to happen this day.
Debra threw off the covers and got out of bed.
The house was quiet. Her parents must have taken the refugee family from
Springfield up to the church. One, a nine-year-old girl named Sonia
Kitay, was in bad shape. She had lost a lot of blood from an attack by
flying transgenics. The Jewish family had somehow found their way to the
Sterlings' house yesterday evening. Debra knelt down and prayed for the
refugee family and for her parents and friends.
Debra stood up and then saw the giant grotesque
face staring at her through the glass patio door. She had never seen a
transgenic being before. It was over eight feet tall, a combination of
feathers and long brown hair on a huge round head that sported a
strange, complex pair of antlers. The enormous feathered wings spread
out and there were two human-like arms. It was roughly the same shape as
a barn owl, the yellow eyes the size of dinner plates, but where there
should have been a beak was a pair of oversized human lips that were
moving. The monster exposed itself with its hands and she saw it was
both male and female. It beckoned her by name to open the patio door.
Debra felt sadness and revulsion. She walked
over to her patio door and pulled the Venetian blinds across to block
its view. She went into the bathroom and shut and locked the door. After
a few minutes she heard people outside. She came out of the bathroom and
recognized Davy-Jake's shouts as he chased the transgenic monster away.
Debra quickly dressed then opened the door for Davy-Jake and his
hand-picked squad of nine scouts, all armed with newly fashioned
Debra greeted everyone and hugged Davy-Jake and some of the others. She
locked the house and they left in a hurry. Nobody talked as Davy-Jake
and Debra led the scouts past the church cemetery and then up the steep
hill on the broken concrete steps. The early morning sky was filled with
clouds and the humid forest pressed down on them with foreboding. As
they emerged from the trees Davy-Jake told her in a quiet, low voice
that during the night flying transgenics had firebombed the five other
remaining churches in Moreau County. The Catholic Church in Bluff City
was still burning. Their Baptist church was the last one left standing
in the county.
* * *
Debra's father stood outside the church with Reverend Mandal and a crowd
of elderly people. During the last several days all the elders of the
church as well as many other elderly people from other churches and
people who had not attended church in many years all made their ways up
here to the Heritage Baptist Church.
For over an hour Davy-Jake tried hard to convince Pastor Sterling to
evacuate to the museum in Bluff City but all one hundred and forty-two
people declined. The Pastor told him in no uncertain terms that they
were not going to end their vigil. Finally Davy-Jake offered to come
back with guns to defend the church but Pastor Sterling declined that
offer as well.
"No guns, Davy-Jake, do you hear me?" Pastor Sterling said. "I don't
want any guns on this church's property."
"You know what they did in Sunnyland,"
"I know about the massacre. If God is going to deliver us today it's not
going to be with guns. Listen, son, remember what I taught you. This
temple," Pastor Sterling pointed to their church, "and this temple," he
pointed to his heart, "are just temporary. Neither was meant to last. We
always thought of America as the 'Shining City on a hill', but at its
best it was only a taste of the real heavenly city that's coming. Have
faith, deliverance is coming."
"I've been put here to protect people," Davy-Jake said.
"You go protect those young people with
whatever weapons you can get your hands on," Pastor Sterling said. "You
have my blessing for that, Davy-Jake."
Davy-Jake reluctantly turned to lead his scouts down the hill. He called
for Jimmy Owens who was inside saying goodbye to his elderly mother. He
looked down at Debra but she shook her head.
"I'm not leaving, Davy-Jake," she said. "Today
is the day of deliverance and I have work to do here."
Davy-Jake wanted to just pick her up and carry her down the hill but
when he looked at his pastor the white-haired man quietly said, "No."
"Debra, girl, you're breaking my heart," Davy-Jake said.
"In this world a true child of God has to learn to let go," Debra said.
"I love you, brother."
"I love you too," he barely managed to say.
"You give my love to my sister Lydia."
"I will, Debra," Davy-Jake said. He turned to lead his scouts down the
church hill road.
Two widower farmers in their late seventies volunteered to go halfway
down the gravel road to stand guard. The eldest was Lloyd and the
youngest by five months was Floyd. Both had been rivals all their lives
and had actually married each other's sweethearts. Lloyd brandished his
bullfrog gig and Floyd held an old-fashioned pitchfork.
* * *
Jimmy came out of the church with his obese mother. He hugged Debra
and his mother again then shook hands with Pastor Sterling.
"I sure am sorry about what happened to that
little girl," Jimmy said wiping his eyes. The girl was almost dead.
He started to follow Davy-Jake and the scouts but suddenly lost
control of himself. Most of his life he hid from the authorities at
his church or on Dan Diamond's organic farm to protect his mother
from prosecution for having him. He never went to school but
understood what was going on. Some secular kids told him he could be
cured or even get turned into a superhero like in the comic book
netcasts. He had been tempted. But now he screamed out: "I don't
want to be turned into a beast! God made me right, no matter what
Jimmy confronted Davy-Jake about the teasing he and Rick and some of the
other kids used to do to him. One of their favorite games was to
suddenly act like Jimmy was invisible when he was standing right next to
them. It had frightened Jimmy badly that all of a sudden the other kids
seemingly couldn't see or hear him.
Davy-Jake stopped. He turned around and his
six-foot seven-inches looked a little shorter. He apologized to Jimmy in
front of everyone and then said, "You know, Jimmy, God always loved you
the most." Everyone around chimed in to agree and they started marching
down the church hill road.
* * *
When they were half way down the road a swarthy man with a beard and a
turban rounded a curve in front of them. Davy-Jake saw the man carried
an ornate saber. He made sure that the birds were still singing and even
noticed a chipmunk scurrying across the gravel road behind the stranger.
He signaled for his scouts to halt and then walked down alone to talk to
the man. The bearded man didn't speak much English. One of the two
scouts of Indian background named Johnny D'Soussa recognized the dialect
from the Punjab and came down to translate.
They learned that the man had walked all the way north from Memphis. He
wanted to help guard the last church. The demons, he said, had publicly
announced that they were going to wipe out all the Christians in this
county for murdering transgenics.
"Is he a Moslem?" Davy-Jake asked.
"No, he's a Sikh," Johnny said. "It's a different monotheistic religion.
They think it's their duty to protect vulnerable people no matter what
religion they are."
"Okay, give him some food and water and put him with Lloyd and Floyd if
that's what he wants," Davy-Jake said.
Jimmy Owens started shaking his head.
"No, I'm not leaving. I'm going to stay and protect my mother and Debra
and my church."
Davy-Jake then told Jimmy all the horrible
things the transgenics would do if they captured him. Jimmy gulped. Then
he told Jimmy they believed evil spirits possessed most of the
transgenics and were now sure Wayne Browner was really a resurrected
murderer of Christians from the Twentieth Century, but Jimmy wouldn't
Davy-Jake patted Jimmy proudly on the back then
gave him a hatchet. He led his scouts the rest of the way down the
church hill road to their bicycles hidden behind some trees. They had a
long way to ride to complete their reconnaissance of the river borders.
As they rode north along the road to Riverton, one of his sharp-eyed
scouts named Zeke Johnson, Noah Johnson's son, noticed three tiny specks
far out on the Mississippi River. They halted and Davy-Jake used his
powerful binoculars. The three tiny specks soon became three big
pleasure boats packed with hideous transgenics. Davy-Jake called it in,
expecting Judson to send him back to guard the church. But Judson
ordered him and his ten scouts to immediately return to their base.
"There's over a hundred-and-forty people inside our church," Davy-Jake
said. "They're helpless, over."
"That's understood, DJ. We have over two thousand here and you are
defying a direct order. We can't be strong everywhere. You need to get
back here pronto, over and out."
After a long pause Davy-Jake finally signed off. He ordered his scouts
to ride all-out back to their base at the museum in Bluff City.
* * *
Debra Sterling said goodbye to her parents. She hugged them and her
father kissed the top of her blond head. She let go of her mother's
hands and backed away.
"If we have a victory today you'll have to share credit with a girl,"
"You always were our victory," Pastor Sterling said.
Debra walked down the broken concrete steps
alone. It was a long lonely walk. How she had lived her life suddenly
seemed futile to her. She wanted to tell Davy-Jake that she was not the
innocent, spacey girl he and Rick thought she was. She alternately
daydreamed about being married to each one of them since she was eleven
years old. She thought all four were handsome, including Jimmy. Debra
imagined Jimmy a normal guy coming home from work and she would be
waiting with a big meal. She imagined talking intimately with husband
Rick Machado about his latest painting. Next she imagined watching the
sun rise on a fishing trip with husband Davy-Jake Diamond. And she
vividly imagined wildly cheering for her husband Tyler Pandav and his
professional soccer team at a giant stadium.
Daydreams are for little girls, she told herself then, time to leave
childhood things behind. Out of nowhere a crisis of faith hit Debra but
she kept walking. She finally got to the bottom of the broken steps. As
she walked past the church graveyard it felt the worst but she kept
When Debra got to her one-story ranch house she noticed the birds
suddenly stop singing. She unlocked the front door and closed it behind
her but didn't lock it. The house was dark. She went into her room and
got her guitar. She took the guitar into her father's office, lit a
candle, and sat down in her father's reading chair.
She ran her fingers across the dents the hail left on the guitar's wood
surface. Strange something so fleeting as hail could leave permanent
marks. The hail was like this life and the guitar is like my soul, Debra
thought. She started playing a song from over a hundred years ago called
"Fire and Rain." It was secular but one line in the lyrics asked Jesus
to look down upon the singer.
When Debra knew they were outside she stopped
playing. She heard voices that were not human and then the front door
was kicked open. She smiled imagining their surprise it wasn't locked
and barricaded. She put down her guitar and stood up facing the office
doorway. She knew who was going to come through the doorway.
Henry Moore walked in with a machete in his right hand. He looked the
same in the flickering candle light, the same lumberjack body and square
head, the same six-feet, five-inches, and the same curly brown hair. He
still had brown eyes and the tee shirt that read BAD HENRY was the same.
"You're really stupid," Henry said.
"That's not your usual greeting, Henry," Debra
"I don't have time for hellos or goodbyes."
"I know," she said. "I just want to ask you one question."
"Ask it fast."
"Why have you been looking at moss with a magnifying glass all these
"You told me there were little people living in the miniature forest,"
Henry said. "I wanted to find them."
"I never told you there were little people living in the moss," she said
with a smile. "I said, 'What if there were little people living in the
Henry suddenly looked like a little kid who
just found out there is no Santa Claus. His face changed into pure
"You know my hearing's not that good!" Henry
"But why did you believe me?" she asked. She
knew smiling was a mistake now.
"Because you never lied to me even when I was going to hurt you."
"And I'm not lying to you now, either," she
said. "You've seen things that don't have any rational explanation. Out
on the marsh at night, even back when you were five years old and your
mother's boyfriend kicked you down the stairs and you lost hearing in
one ear. You saw something then, didn't you?"
"I've seen things; none of them were good, so
what?" he said. He gripped the machete tightly to begin chopping.
"You've read the Old Testament, haven't you?" she asked. "You read it
for the wrong reasons and you were too afraid to read the New Testament,
but you believe those miracles, don't you?"
"I'm not afraid of anything," he responded. He
wanted to end this and end her but something kept him from doing it.
"Tell me you don't believe in those miracles." Debra's suddenly
angry voice would have startled anyone else.
"All right, I believe them," he said. "But
that's not going to help you now."
"This isn't about me," she said. "I have Jesus in my heart and I'm not
afraid to die. This is about you, Henry. You've changed. There's
something different inside you that you've never had before."
"You're right," he said. "I've changed. I'm not
human any more."
"No, you're wrong," she said. "You're more human now than you've ever
"What are you talking about?"
"Whatever they did to you changed you," Debra
said. "You were born hard-wired wrong. Human warmth repulsed you and
cruelty made you happy. It's because your parents and your grandparents
and your great-grandparents used drugs that robbed you of your soul,
Henry. Doctors with more drugs couldn't help you. But what man can't do
God can. That same hideous technology millions of people have chosen to
curse themselves with God has used to give you a chance to choose life."
"You're wrong," Henry said proudly. "I've
already made my choice. I have created what I am. I am the master of my
"No, you know that's a lie, Henry. You know
you've always been a slave to every evil spirit blowing in on the wind,
but the living God has given you a chance to be free so that you can
choose to be His child. I know you never really had a mother or father
in this world but God loves you and wants you to be his son. He has
worked a miracle just for you to make you see that He loves you."
"Nobody could love me," Henry said
"You're wrong," she said. "You know I'm telling
you the truth. You've changed. The old Bad Henry would have killed me by
now. It's proof that God loves you. The truth is you were supposed to be
one of us. You were supposed to be our champion, our Samson, but you
were cheated out of loving us and we were cheated out of loving you.
Don't let this evil world cheat you any more."
"So God doesn't care what I've done?" he asked.
"You've hurt people all your life," she said.
"You've done evil things to so many people. What you did to Tyler hurt
me real bad...hurt me real bad. God hates the evil you've done but still
He loves you so much He worked a miracle to give you a choice."
Waiting outside were sixty-six other
transgenics and they started chanting for Henry to finish and come out.
The eerie chanting filled up the little house so they could barely hear
"Red blade, not shiny blade, red blade, not
shiny blade, come out, Bad Henry!" They repeated over and over. Wayne
Browner had sent Henry inside so he could finish off whoever was there
quickly. Wayne knew the others would have taken hours, especially with
Debra, and wanted to get going up to the church before dark so their
conquest could be netcast live.
Henry hated being indecisive. He looked this way and that, ready to
start pacing back and forth, but Debra quickly told him what to pray to
obtain salvation. She told him he would have to get off by himself away
from the others to do it. If he didn't do it soon his heart would
"I'm ready now," she finally said. "I'd rather you did it quick. I don't
want them to get me."
"No," Henry said. "Go hide. "I'll tell them something. I want to talk to
"One way or another you won't be talking to me again in this world," she
said. "Remember what I told you to pray. And Henry, if you do, you will
get to see God's angels in the moss. I'll be praying for you."
Henry turned to walk out.
"God bless you, Henry," she said. He stopped
with his back to her for a second then walked out on of the house.
* * *
Henry walked out of the house without saying anything. The other
transgenics jeered when they saw his shiny machete blade. Wayne Browner,
now a flying demon with giant hummingbird wings, kept stroking the
striped lizard scales on his arms as he studied Henry for a few seconds.
The realistic tattoo of a .38 caliber bullet wound on Wayne's shaved
head seemed ready to bleed.
"What were you talking to her about?" Wayne finally demanded in an
amplified voice. The demon's cobalt blue eyes were so intense the other
transgenics could only glimpse the radiant face for a few seconds before
"She hid in a crawl space," Henry said. "I was
trying to get her to come out."
"Let's burn it down!" a multi-legged hobgoblin
shouted. The others joined in and they all began chanting. "Burn it
down! Burn it down!"
"We can come back later," Henry said. "No sense
in wasting a virgin, right, Doug?"
"Yeah!" Doug Strapman yelled. Doug was now a
bucentaur possessed by a lustful spirit obsessed with rape.
"To the Church!" Wayne shouted and raised its arms. "Rock on!" Wayne led
them up the curving gravel road towards the church. The other
transgenics looked at each other and shook their heads. They followed,
rocking back and forth, as they walked up the road behind their demon
* * *
"You been farming long?" Floyd asked Lloyd. It was an old inside joke
having to do with Lloyd being older than Floyd.
"Your pond is the one the coots visit every
migration," Lloyd replied. "Those birds know enough to stop and talk to
one of their own."
"Hey, where is this bearded fella from again?"
"He's from Memphis," Lloyd said.
"That's how they dress in Memphis now?" Floyd asked.
"He's a Sikh," Lloyd said.
"He's a sick?" Floyd said. "Why didn't he stay home then?"
As Floyd and Lloyd chattered on the Sikh man tried
to talk to Jimmy Owens. When they all noticed the forest suddenly become
quiet Jimmy's face lost all pallor. Dark clouds covered half the sky,
stillness in the afternoon half light dappling down through the leafy
branches of the big oak trees lining the road. Now Jimmy and the other
three men heard something coming from down hill.
"We kill the demons when they come," the bearded man said to Jimmy.
"We sure will," Jimmy said back. They heard
strange voices coming up the hill now. Jimmy froze when Wayne and the
small army of transgenic monsters rounded the last bend between them. He
couldn't take it. Jimmy panicked and ran cradling the hatchet. He
disappeared into the trees of the steep hillside. The other three did
not blame him.
"Look at them," Lloyd said.
"Lord," Floyd said. "Nightmares made out of
flesh and blood. I wonder why the ones behind the leader are rocking
back and forth like that."
"I guess this is it," Lloyd said.
"I guess so," Floyd said.
"See yuh," Lloyd said.
"See yuh in the funny papers," Floyd said, and
Lloyd wanted to stab him first with the bullfrog gig but decided to save
* * *
Debra Sterling crawled out of her hiding place
in the basement. She got down on her knees and clasped her hands
together. "Heavenly Father, forgive me my worldliness on this day. Lord,
I have been a failure with your special gift of prophecy from the Holy
Spirit. I squandered your mighty power amusing people when I should have
used it to bring them to your truth. I failed Kim utterly. I failed
Tyler, I couldn't prevent his murder, and I failed to convince Rick to
change course to avoid feeling the anguish from what he has done.
Father, I confess all this but I ask you now, in the name of Jesus
Christ, I am pleading that the words I spoke to Henry Moore will bring
him into your light.
"Lord, we know that our true battle is not with flesh and blood mortals.
We know it is against the invisible satanic beings and powers of the
evil spiritual kingdoms that rule this wicked world. Father, please help
him stand strong. Give him the full armor of your salvation, the helmet
of salvation, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Holy Spirit. In
the name of Jesus Christ I ask this, amen."
* * *
The other transgenics avoided the Christian cemetery so Henry Moore
prayed there. He stood up and walked between weathered headstones to the
shaded hillside next to the church cemetery. Henry knelt back down with
his hand lens and after a short pause began studying the moss on the
trunk of a large walnut tree. He suddenly stood up and put the hand lens
away. He could not stand still so he started up the steep, broken
Screams, shouts, and inhuman shrieks now echoed ahead. Henry kept
climbing and soon found a bearded man crushed to death in the ferns near
the steps. Crawling through the underbrush close by a mortally wounded,
eight-foot-tall sasquatch tried to hide. Henry knew what the other
transgenics would do if they found one of their own unable to defend
Henry picked up the bearded man's saber with
his right hand. He still held the machete in his left. He kept climbing
up the steps running parallel to the gravel road a hundred yards away
through the trees.
When Henry got to the top he saw the bucentaur that once was Doug
Strapman, a pitchfork stuck in his flank. Doug cursed and bellowed,
running in a circle vainly trying to reach the pitchfork handle. Henry
walked past the wounded bucentaur to join the half circle of transgenic
monsters around Wayne. The radiant demon spoke to them only fifty yards
in front of the church.
"This is their last church," Wayne's eerie voice reverberated loudly.
"From now on for the next thousand years this will be our temple and we
will sacrifice their children in it!"
Wayne's dreadful gaze scanned across the faces
of the sixty-four transgenic monsters. He stopped and pointed a taloned
index finger at Henry. "You! Lead them into the church. No mercy for any
one. Do you understand me?"
"Check," Henry said. "No mercy for anyone."
Wayne ordered a trio of bug-eyed transgenics to
set up 3-D video cameras to netcast the slaughter. Without hesitation
Henry started towards the front entrance of the church. The late
afternoon sunlight streamed down between two massive black clouds in the
western horizon. Henry noticed the American flag hanging in front and
the cross on the steeple. He wondered what it looked like inside a
church. There were many people watching him approach through the big
windows and he felt their terror.
"You know somebody's going to get it bad when Bad Henry's quiet like
this," the twelve-foot-tall ogre that used to be Lenny Davis said to the
spidery, glowing white hobgoblin as they came on behind Henry. When
Henry got forty feet in front of the church door he spun around facing
the other transgenics.
"Surprise!" Henry shouted. Lenny and the dozens of other transgenic
creatures stopped and started backing up as Henry practiced slashing the
air with both bladed weapons.
"This isn't supposed to happen!" Doug shouted
at Wayne. "The Notebook said once they change a person can't be on their
"The Notebook is a crock." Henry spoke loudly
so all of them heard.
"You blaspheme the portents in the divine
Notebook!" Wayne screamed with a contorted face. "We will butcher you
and paint our new temple with your blood!"
"I don't have blood any more," Henry said with a smile no one ever saw
before. "And none of you are going to touch this church."
"You're gonna die!" Doug yelled and shoved his
way to the front of the crowd of transgenic monsters.
"Bring it," Henry said.
Doug charged, the massive bull body galloping slowly, the pitchfork
still in his flank. Blood already covered the horns on its lowered head.
Like a matador Henry side-stepped away at the last second and the
machete came down on the back of Doug's neck. The bucentaur halted,
stood there motionless with the horned head hanging down until Henry
pushed the body over.
Wayne sent them after him one at a time at
first. The demon leader wanted to give an individual the honor of
killing Henry but the bodies of the slain transgenic beasts piled up
forming an arc-shaped wall around the renegade battling to protect the
The eleventh transgenic beast to attack was the multi-limbed hobgoblin.
Henry had known the man before the transformation. He had no second
thoughts about killing him or any of the other transgenics. To Henry
they were just walking and talking brambles and poison ivy bushes that
had to be chopped down. His normal summer job of clearing underbrush
from beneath the giant netcast antennas stationed throughout the
countryside made him an expert with the machete. After he chopped into
the glowing white hobgoblin three times the creature wailed pitifully
then begged Henry not to make him leave this body.
"Who are you?" Henry asked. He had no remorse or even nostalgia that
this had once been a petty criminal he had worked with for over a year.
He was just curious; the guy he knew would never have talked like this
"We are legion," the hobgoblin said and Henry finished him with a quick
chop that split open the oblong head.
The twelve-foot-tall ogre that used to be Lenny
Davis was almost on top of him now. Henry somersaulted under the
ogre, got up behind him, chopping down into the tendons in the back of
the thick, elephantine ankles. Lenny fell sideways as he tried to turn
around and Henry plunged the saber into one of his over-sized eyes.
The nine-foot-tall sasquatch with knee braces
came at him next. Despite the knee braces he moved fast, much more agile
with the peculiar bent-legged charge than the clumsy ogre. He managed to
strike Henry hard once. He clacked his bared white teeth and jabbered
curses in his demonic language until Henry recovered and chopped one
hairy hand off and then brought the beast down with more stabs and chops
until he finally hacked off the hairy coned head, which was a feat
because the creature seemed to have no neck.
* * *
Inside the Heritage Baptist Church Pastor Sterling, Reverend Mandal,
and dozens of the grey-haired parishioners watched the battle through
the two big front windows. Reverend Mandal confessed he had lost faith
God would deliver them until Henry spun around and started fighting to
"Should we go out to help him?" Reverend Mandal
"No, we'd just be in the way," Pastor Sterling
said. "What I'm going to do now is what I should have done a long time
ago. I'm going to lead everyone here in prayer to ask God to help Henry
The only young people inside the church were the couple with the dying
child. The little girl woke up one more time and her father told her God
had sent a deliverer to fight for them right in front of the church.
Sonia Kitay asked to see the deliverer so they carried her to a window.
She looked out and saw Henry chop down a female transgenic monster that
had six cobra snakes for hair.
"He's beautiful," she said with a smile as they
carried her back to her cot on the floor. She died then and her parents
and many of the elderly parishioners began weeping.
* * *
Outside Henry was starting to get into trouble.
Number sixteen was a panther-woman who leaped thirty feet onto his back
and clawed him badly before he managed to put her down. From then on
Wayne sent groups of transgenics to attack Henry. He got knocked down
several times but never let go of either weapon. He kept getting back up
to chop more transgenic monsters to the ground. Their mostly red blood
covered his old name on his tee shirt. Even though he didn't have blood
any more he started feeling the loss of his new vital fluids.
The second-to-the-last group was a gang of five chupracabras who flew
down on him. They cursed him in Spanish as they clawed with
six-inch-long talons and beat him with their giant bat wings. Henry
finally managed to hack them apart then faced the last group.
Wayne's personal bodyguard, a trio of muscular satyrs each waving
carving knives in front of them, slowly circled him. When they finally
rushed in they stuck out their overlong tongues and screamed in unison.
This battle took the longest. Wayne's mouth became an enraged circle as
he watched Henry break his machete blade in the skull of one satyr and
leave the blade of the saber in the stomach of another who ran off past
Wayne into the woods to die.
Wayne whirled around and saw the three bug-men transgenics start to fly
off with their video cameras. The demon leader forgot to tell them to
stop filming. They ignored his orders to come back, their giant
dragonfly wings beating as loudly as three lawn mowers. When Wayne
turned back around he saw the last satyr fall to the ground with his
hands clutching its throat. Henry spat out the satyr's blood and then
reached around to his back to pull the big knife out.
Black clouds covered the sky with no sign of rain as Wayne rose up, his
wings beating so fast they looked invisible. Wayne could fly faster than
most people could see. He was transgenic, not neogenic, but was a very
advanced transgenic creature. The only problem was his thirst for blood
to keep his new metabolism functioning was difficult to quench. He
needed to feed on at least a gallon of fresh blood every hour and was
now very hungry.
His mouth still in an enraged O, Wayne the
demon flew around Henry faster than a blur then attacked, knocking Henry
out with one blow. Wayne stood over the prostrate Henry for a second
then bent down and clawed his eyes out. He pulled Henry up by the hair
and an arm, flying up over the church. Higher and higher he flew Henry
into the dark sky, ten stories, thirty stories, fifty stories, eighty
stories above the two-hundred-and-thirty-year-old church. Wayne intended
to drop Henry from about a hundred stories. Henry would crash through
the roof of the church and then Wayne would fly through the hole to
attack and feed.
The huffing and puffing demon didn't notice
Henry regain consciousness. Henry reached up and grabbed the base of one
of Wayne's wings with both vice-grip hands and they started falling in a
circle like a giant one-winged moth.
"You said it couldn't be done!" Henry shouted over the rushing air and
panic screeches from Wayne. Henry couldn't see with his eyes but did see
remotely somehow, saw clearer than his own eyes could have Wayne's demon
face succumb to terror. Henry sent an electrical impulse down the nerve
fiber to the explosive gas housed in his stomach. He exploded and a
bright flash and thunderous boom went out that could be seen and heard
for miles. Directly below the blast wave hit the church collapsing the
roof, killing instantly all one hundred and forty-one people inside.
VIII. Down the Mississippi without Huck and Jim
"Everybody heard the sonic boom about 8:42 PM our time," Johnny D'Soussa
said. He and Judson Hawkingson stood on the church battlefield an
hour after a grey sunrise. Judson led a hundred men armed with
crossbows; most of them now busy using meat hooks to drag the sixty
transgenic carcasses into a pile to be burned.
"But the explosion up here was heard an hour before the Big Boom?"
Judson asked. They already knew the "Big Boom" was heard all over
"That's what they're saying in Riverton," Johnny said.
"This battlefield doesn't make any sense," Judson said. "It seems
like just one fighter put all these crazy-looking things down. The
church looks like some giant just stepped on it. It must have been
a powerful air burst that went off right above it."
"Maybe that Sikh man we met coming up the road had some serious martial
"Might just be possible," Judson said. "It sure wasn't Floyd and
Lloyd that did all this. But where are they? Where are all
Rick climbed out of the rubble to report there were bloody clothes but
no sign of bodies and no evidence any bodies were dug out.
"Was there radio chatter about prisoners taken from here last night?"
"No," Rick answered. He had been up all
night monitoring radio frequencies and netcasts. "In fact they're
accusing us of massacring transgenics here. They did a short
interview with Dean Browner and he said Wayne came up here with two
hundred other 'transgenic children' and only three got back.
Mainly they've been talking about the currency crisis and the banks
closing. The bottom fell out faster than I think even the neogenes
were planning for. There were bread riots all over the world
starting last night and pro- and anti-transgenic riots in the suburbs
around Saint Louis and a lot of other cities too. The network of
feeding stations is broke down and the transgenics are going hungry.
The one thing everybody agrees on, whether they're transgenic or secular
human, is that Christians and Israel are to blame for the chaos and no
food in the stores."
Judson's walkie-talkie vibrated, Davy-Jake was on the other end.
He and Lydia and nine of his scouts were up at the lighthouse cliff
overlooking the Mississippi River.
"There was a skirmish over here," Davy-Jake
reported. "From the tracks it looks like that humongous flying
thing we saw prowling around the Sterlings' house yesterday scuffled
with two people. I found the hatchet I gave to Jimmy. I'm
sure it's his tracks; he got knocked off the edge of the cliff but never
hit the ground. The other human had to have been Debra Sterling.
No sign of either of them."
"Understood. Keep searching until I call you, over." Judson
heard the angry edge in Davy-Jake's voice. He was still
upset about the order to come back to base yesterday. During the
long night guarding most of the county's population in the Bluff City
Museum fortress, Judson almost put Davy-Jake in shackles for
insubordination. It was going to be hard keeping that kid inside
the command structure. Judson wiped his hands then walked over to
the pile of transgenic bodies to start the bonfire.
* * *
Lydia checked underneath the branches of the
downed Great Pecan Tree, looking for anyone trapped. The wind
changed direction and blew in smoke from burning flesh and hair for a
few minutes. It gagged her until she thought to tie her purple
bandanna across her face to filter out the stench. She put the
crossbow down then crawled between the branches under the enormous
trunk. When she parted some small leafy branches she came face to
face with Henry's head. It hung from a branch by the curly brown
She called out to Davy-Jake and then Henry's
head with the horrible gouged-out eyes started speaking to her! It
took a second for her to accept what she was seeing before she screamed.
Davy-Jake scrambled between the tree branches to get to her. She
scooted backwards pointing her finger at the branch as she edged past
him. He unsheathed his Bowie knife and crawled forward. When
he found Henry's head he cut the branch off then dragged it out.
"Is that you, Diamond?" Henry whispered. He was dried out and
could barely speak.
"Yeah, it's me, Moore," Davy-Jake said as he carried the branch and head
past his nine scouts who had different mixtures of revulsion and
grimness on their faces. He brought Henry's head to the edge of
the cliff. "You did it. You blew up our church."
"I had to. You gotta help me or I'm gonna die."
"I'll help you," Davy-Jake said. He flung
the branch with Henry's head over the cliff and far out towards the
river. It landed hundreds of feet down with a muddy splash in a
small stagnant pool next to the river bank. "Bon-appetite,
Judson called a few minutes later. Davy-Jake ordered his nine
scouts back to the church ruins but he kept looking up into the grey sky
long after they marched down the path. Lydia walked up behind him
and put her arms around his waist, nuzzling her face into his back.
Then they both noticed the croaking toads and the buzzing insects.
* * *
Back at the destroyed church Judson took Rick and Davy-Jake aside to
give them a special mission. They couldn't quite believe what he
wanted them to do but they took two spades and trudged through the woods
down the concrete steps to the church cemetery at the bottom of the
hill. Neither said anything to the other on the way down.
Rick was exhausted and nauseous. When they got to the church
cemetery he picked the grave of a Mary Welch, born 1909–died 1972, over
a hundred years ago. He knew no one with that surname and hoped if
there was still family in the county they wouldn't find out.
"Let's dig up this one," Rick said.
Davy-Jake turned his back towards him and said, "Yes, sir."
"I'm getting sick of your attitude," Rick said. He felt like clubbing
Davy-Jake with the spade.
"Yes, sir," Davy-Jake answered again, insolence
dripping from the two words.
Rick dropped it. What good would it do to
fight him here anyway? Of course sooner or later they were going to
collide. He wanted to put it off until after everyone was safe.
Just last night he overheard Davy-Jake tell someone it was his
degeneracy that caused Kim's transformation into a river-haunting ghoul.
Davy-Jake was in a noisy rage at Judson now; Judson was almost ready to
replace him with Johnny D'Soussa as commander of the scouts. But Rick
knew since the day he walked into the wedding party that Davy-Jake was
quietly and deeply furious with him, blaming him for just about every
bad thing that had happened.
Rick stood guard with his crossbow while
Davy-Jake took off his shirt and then plunged the sharp spade into the
grave. They took turns digging into the hard, compacted dirt.
It took half the day but they finally reached the coffin. They
looked at each other, shrugged, and then pried it open. They both
stared inside the open coffin a long time. Without saying anything
they re-buried it then slipped back up the hill to report to Judson.
* * *
Three days later at dawn a big green helicopter landed on top of the
Moreau County Museum. Judson, Rick, and five others were waiting.
Colonel Daniel Diamond jumped out to direct the unloading of eleven
heavy crates from the helicopter. When they finished dollying the
crates down into the museum they climbed back up to the roof to send off
the helicopter. Dan saluted the grey-bearded pilot then the
sputtering old military helicopter took off. Despite the smoke and
noise the power of the old chopper still amazed Rick. He had never
seen a military helicopter in real life.
"Where they going?" Judson asked after noticing the helicopter heading
"The munitions factory in Iowa," Dan said. "They won't be coming
"They carrying a tactical nuke?" Rick asked.
"No, they've got a chemical explosive device almost as powerful.
We have to save our nukes. Spread the word to the field commanders
that there will be a mandatory meeting at 11:00 hours in the museum
* * *
"We believe the rapture has occurred," Dan said to begin the meeting.
There were seven men and two women in the candle-lit conference room,
all that was left of Moreau County's Christian community leaders.
"When the Big Boom happened the dead in Christ went first and then a
small number of living Christians who actually had enough of the Holy
Spirit in them to impact this world were called up to His heavenly
"We know for certain this was not an attack
with satellite weapons that vaporize people?" asked Captain Chaudhuri,
the senior barge pilot for the river barge transport company
headquartered in Bluff City.
"Rick, tell them what you and DJ found when you dug up the grave in the
"We opened up the casket and there were musty clothes but nothing else.
No body, no bones, nothing, nada."
"Why so few of us?" asked Marianne Lewis, the thirty-two-year-old mayor
of Riverton. "Out of over two thousand Christians in this county,
witnesses say only a half a dozen people disappeared."
"Other than what I just said, I don't want to speculate, Marianne," Dan
"'And wherever the carcass is there the vultures will gather,'" Rick
quoted. "We still have our carcasses so we're in bad trouble.
I've been talking to other Christian communities on the short wave radio
and it looks like less than one percent of practicing Christians
worldwide were taken. Maybe a half a million people, all adults, most
of them from the poorest areas."
"I never believed our Lord would cause planes to fall out of the sky,
cars to crash, and all that," Judson said. "But I always thought
innocent babies would be called up."
"It's not going to do us any good second-guessing God's judgment, ladies
and gentlemen." Dan's military commander voice boomed out.
"The truth is it is our own actions that have brought us to this point.
And when I say our own I mean everybody, believers who didn't use the
Holy Spirit's gifts, as well as non-believers. If the human race
had lived by the Ten Commandments this planet would have been a near
paradise, am I right?"
They all agreed. Next Colonel Diamond
reviewed the world situation. "Less than one percent of the
world's ten billion people are practicing Christians. Intense
persecution of Christians and Jews is already occurring in the rest of
the world, and now the last backwater for Judeo-Christian people, North
America, is being targeted. Their Plan states Christians are to be
annihilated first and Israel saved for last. This enemy is the
most powerful, most technologically advanced totalitarian regime in
history. Soon, according to the Plan, this dictatorship regime
with world-wide resources will be compelling all citizens to get
worker-insect transgenic enhancements. These enhancements will
give an individual resistance to prion infections but also make that
individual a compliant slave for the neogenics' economic enterprises.
"There is no way we can defend this county,"
Colonel Diamond went on. "They are positioning satellites with
microwave and particle beam weapons above us as we speak. In their
mass media they've branded us as bigoted murderers and declared open
season on us. Any transgenic has a license to kill any citizen
from this county it can catch. It's just a matter of time before
they overrun us."
"So we all have to evacuate?" Rick asked.
"Yes," Dan answered. "That's what the rest of this meeting is
going to be about. We're moving everybody to the cave complex in
the Shawnee Forest. There're already about nine hundred refugees
in the Ozark cave complex next door; they'll be helping to get ready for
us. Once we're safe we'll go to work getting ready for more
refugees from all over the Western Hemisphere. Any Christian or
religious Jew that can get to us we'll take in. We're going to
create a new underground railroad."
"What about secular people opposed to the new
world government?" Mayor Lewis asked. "We have over a thousand of
them in this county."
"I'm afraid we don't have resources for anyone that's still sitting on
the fence, Marianne. Maybe some will convert later."
"That still means we have over two thousand to
move, Dan," Captain Chaudhuri said.
"Two thousand three hundred and fifty-two
by my last count," Judson said with a tired smile.
"How are we going to move that many people
almost two hundred kilometers with no fuel for our vehicles?" Rick
"We're not going by land. We don't have time to dribble everybody
out by bicycles and on foot." Dan's old wry humor reappeared in
his twinkling blue-grey eyes. "We're going down the Mississippi,
and this ain't going to be no going down the Mississippi with old Huck
and Jim, either."
* * *
Q-boat," Captain Chaudhuri said to his four hand-picked Indian barge
pilots. Colonel Diamond and liaison Lieutenant Rick Machado were
also in the museum conference room an hour after the initial meeting
with the community leaders.
"What's a Q-boat, Captain?" one of the pilots asked.
"They were Allied merchant vessels during World War One that were
secretly armed," Dan answered. "They would lure German submarines
to surface and then open fire on them. We're going to use the same
"All five barges will hide about five hundred
people in the grain holds," Captain Chaudhuri still spoke with a remnant
of an Indian English accent. "If we make it past Saint Louis and
on down past Kaskaskia we will stay peaceful. If we are blocked
we're going to barge our way through."
"We are going to make one stop in Granite
City," Rick said, authority now natural in his voice. "We're going
to pick up two congregations, one Latino and one African-American.
The African-Americans will board Q-3 and the Latinos Q-4."
"Gentlemen, I know there are still some in both the Indian and the Anglo
communities who boast they've never set foot in Granite City," Captain
Chaudhuri said. "We are the last Americans. The time has
come for us to live out our nation's creed and our Lord's commandment.
If we can get this right maybe He will say this was our finest hour."
"So how are we to be armed?" one of the other barge pilots asked.
"I will distribute twenty-five firearms to the passengers I've picked
out on each barge," Dan said. "Almost all of our young people
never held a toy gun before, let alone shot a real one. There
isn't enough time or ammunition to practice. I'll demonstrate how
to load, point shoot, and unjam the weapons right before we leave.
Everyone issued a firearm gets a hundred-and-twenty rounds of ammo.
If it comes to a fight, and I think it will, then we'll have
friendly-fire casualties. Try to get your troopers ready for that.
They'll have to wait and fire point blank at the heart or the brain.
The transgenics have reinforced nervous systems that resist stun guns
and they'll be hard to kill with bullets, too. Fifty more on each
barge will have crossbows. It should scare the living daylights
out of them when they hear those first shots."
"I will have command on the river and when we dock south of Kaskaskia to
unload the passengers Colonel Diamond will command on the ground until
we reach the tunnel complex," Captain Chaudhuri said and looked around
the room. "We begin boarding at 19:00 hours."
* * *
Rick stood over a display case inside a hallway of the exhibition floor
in the candle-lit museum. Inside the display case were artifacts
and the journal of Doctor Philippe Moreau. Four hundred years
earlier Doctor Moreau had been the physician-naturalist for the first
European expedition through this part of the Mississippi Valley.
"Hey, Lieutenant Machado," sang out a female voice behind Rick. He
turned to watch Lydia walk up the hallway. His sister had not said
much to him since his return and now Rick fought a sudden urge to pour
out his heart to her.
"What is it?"
"Supper's ready," she said. "Where's
"He went with Noah and Judson out to his place to harvest and process
the rest of his livestock. They didn't have room for me in the
"So you're not hungry?"
"Yeah, I'm coming, Mrs. Diamond."
"That's Mrs. Diamond-Machado."
"Okay, Mrs. Diamond-Machado," Rick said. He walked beside her down
the dimly lit hallway towards the museum snack bar. They passed
display cases full of artifacts from Indian villages and coal mine
disasters without speaking and then Rick stopped her.
"Lydia, I'm lucky to be your brother; I just
had to tell you. I'm truly sorry about the way I acted when I took
off. I know it cost some other people everything."
"You are lucky and you are sorry. It's about time you realized
what you did hurt all of us." Lydia spoke brusquely but with a
twinkle in her eye. Rick gave a half smile and turned away to look
inside a display case detailing a major steamboat wreck.
"Davy-Jake is pretty angry Dan commissioned me to out-rank him," Rick
said. "I didn't want the job. I'm not the right man for it;
that's for sure."
"Davy-Jake is angry about a lot of things," Lydia responded darkly.
"I never knew how angry he could get about things that can't be changed.
I thought I would be the one with the bad temper."
"Are you two all right?" Rick asked. "Are
you all right?" He couldn't believe the tone of her voice.
His old gut instinct rushed back at his fragile conscious like an ocean
tide, the gut instinct that for two years warned him Davy-Jake was
really a boorish, crude, cruel customer behind the joking, nonchalant
"Yeah, I'm all right. He's getting better, thanks to my
persuasion. Last night he even admitted you've done a good job as
liaison. I trust Dan's judgment and so should both of you."
"That's nice to hear, Lid. The thing is we're evacuating in less
than three hours. All our eggs in five baskets. I agree it's
what we have to do but if we get caught anywhere near Saint Louis
they're going to overrun us, even if we have some guns."
"So I never got a chance to talk to Debra
again. If something happens to me I don't want to think I missed
out on telling the only sister I have left that I love her."
Lydia came to him and they hugged for a long
time. "I love you too, you big jerk. Promise me when the
time comes you and Davy-Jake will fight together like brothers."
"We will," he promised after hesitating a split-second.
When they separated she got a look of indignation on her beautiful,
grown-up face. "Hey, who is this girl that's been text-messaging
you every day on Dan's satellite phone?"; "What's her name?"; "How old
is she?"; "Is she even a Christian?"; "Maybe you need to take a break
from this stuff for a while. I'm not sure you've learned your
Rick tried to argue it was none of her business
but the sisterly interrogation and advice kept coming. Finally he
gave up and put his hands over his face but his mouth was smiling.
"Okay, okay, let's go eat," he said. He took her by the arm and led her
down the hallway to the snack bar.
* * *
Colonel Daniel Diamond checked the refrigerated trailer full of freshly
butchered pacas and pheasants. His pickup truck was the last
vehicle in Moreau County with fuel. He hoped there was enough left
to haul this trailer the thirteen miles into Bluff City. They
would need all the food they could get.
Time to go. Barely five minutes ago
Davy-Jake reported thousands of transgenics massing in the marsh just
three miles north of his property. About five hundred converging
on the other side of the Mississippi at the marina too.
Without saying anything Dan walked away from
Noah and Judson into his three story farm house. In his right hand
he held a fist full of rich black dirt from the garden. This land
had been in his family since they had moved here from Kentucky almost
two hundred and fifty years ago. He walked down the stairs into
the fully furnished basement. There was nothing left to do so he
let the black dirt fall onto the carpet. He dropped to his
knees and prayed aloud.
"Heavenly Father, this is the hardest thing I
have ever had to do. Lord, you know I refused to eat the
corrupting food the world wanted me to devour. I have praised you
for your many blessings, especially for bringing me through the fiery
furnace of war unsinged. Lord, give me my old power back, the
skill I once had with firearms. They are the only tools I have
left to protect this remnant of your people. Help me to lead them
into the safe place prepared for them in the wilderness. In the
matchless name of Jesus Christ I ask this, amen."
He rose and went to an antique table where a pile of road flares waited.
He picked one up, struck the cap on the end and tossed the burning flare
onto the pile on the table. Without looking at result he turned
and hurried up the stairs of the basement and then out of the house.
His two best friends waited for him inside the truck. Daniel got
behind the wheel and turned the ignition. He drove off without
anyone speaking. Smoke already billowed up from the two main
barns. It was starting to rain now, just a light drizzle. No
chance it would stop the coming infernos.
* * *
The drizzling ceased at midnight and the Mississippi River disappeared
into cool, foggy shadows. Eighteen-year-old Maria Elena Cordova
left her three sleeping friends to check their situation. She
noticed the five burly guards were gone so she cautiously slipped
outside the office door of the abandoned factory. Yes, the barges
were going past. Three of the guards had gone down to the river to
signal them. The larger of the two guards standing right outside
told her to quietly pass the word to get ready to move fast.
Would they actually stop for them? Some
of the adults, almost all of them women, were apprehensive. There
were bad rumors circulating that the Anglos and Asians would sell them
to the demons or enslave them to work in the wilderness somewhere to the
south. Maybe it would be better if they didn't stop.
Maria Elena glanced up into the sky but the fog blocked the stars.
She wanted the comfort of seeing them up there. Ever since she
witnessed the old woman disappear into thin air she was afraid her mind
was going or worse that the natural laws of the universe had broken
down. The old woman was a nobody who only existed to prepare meals
or watch babies for people she didn't even know. The woman had
been very devout in a quiet way and when she vanished right in front of
Maria Elena it almost put her into shock. It happened in the blink
of an eye. Some of the African-Americans said they witnessed their
pastor ascend up into the sky while singing a hymn. Almost
everyone agreed it was what was called the rapture, and was
supposed to be a joyous event but was only frightening and perplexing to
new Christians like her.
Maria Elena went back inside the dilapidated
factory building. Her three teenage friends were sleeping on the
floor of the old front office. Hunger pangs stabbed again inside
her stomach, moving around always made them worse. She had eaten
nothing for the last two days and not very much the two days before
that. Everything was a wreck here in the North just like it had
been in Mexico City five weeks ago when they decided to become
Christians and leave the once prosperous Mexi-Caribbean Free Trade
A Middle-aged woman came in and meekly asked Maria Elena what was going
on outside. She told the woman to spread the word then bent down
and shook each of her three teenage friends until they woke up.
Veronica was the prettiest, Yolanda was the wisest, Salina was the
strongest, and of course Maria Elena was the leader. They all got
up and collected their paltry belongings. But the biggest guard
told them the Latinos would have to wait; the barge stopped now just had
room for the African-American congregation.
After the two-hundred-and-ten African-Americans
left, the Latinos stood around and spoke in quiet voices. Finally
the last two guards came in and told everyone to hurry. The
two-hundred-and-fifty-three mostly women, some children, and a few older
men filed out of their hiding place of the last four days and marched in
silence down to the dock a hundred yards away at the bank of the wide
river. The water stank now, Maria Elena noticed. The sewage
treatment plants shut down because the power was off and every day the
river smelled worse.
The fog obscured the features of the dark men moving around on the
barge. Maria Elena and her friends led the way. Commands in
English from above directed them to go down a ramp into the dimly lit
front hold of the barge. After everyone got inside, the ramp
lifted up and ominously clanged shut. Bright lights came on and as
everyone's eyes adjusted a rusty metal door opened and then a lovely
young girl with an amazing figure stepped out.
"Good evening," she greeted them in perfect Spanish. The lovely
young girl looked Latina but was tall and carried herself with a lot of
self-confident poise in her purple denim outfit. The aroma of hot
food wafted from behind the metal door and Maria Elena's mouth instantly
"My name is Lydia Diamond-Machado.
Welcome to the United States."
Many people gasped because that disgraced
nation, like Israel, was not supposed to exist anymore. What would come
next if the two most despised nations in the history of the world had
"Follow me." Lydia led them into the next hold where the hot food was
waiting. "As you can see, we have only the finest accommodations
here in the North," Lydia said as she backed up kicking a dead rat
behind her. Everyone smiled and several children ran up to her.
She pretended to be a tour guide for a luxury cruise liner and many
laughed in relief at the put on. Dark-skinned Asian men served up
delicious tamales and cooked meat on tandore bread. A few of
the refugees from the rural areas south of Mexico City recognized the
rare, rich taste of spotted paca meat and shed tears with each bite.
It was the finest meal Maria Elena had ever eaten. Lydia
circulated around to make sure everyone had enough. She held
babies for mothers and took turns holding hands with the half-a-dozen
admiring young boys who followed her everywhere.
"Hey, Lydia Diamond-Machado, we like you!"
Maria Elena shouted. Lydia came over and Maria Elena introduced
her to her three friends.
"Girl, you're too young to be wearing that
thing," Yolanda said, pointing to Lydia's wedding ring on her left hand.
"What's he like?"
"He's handsome and he is very tall," Lydia said.
"She likes handsome and very tall, I'm telling you," Veronica said.
"What's it like to be married?" Maria Elena asked.
"It's like a lot of things in life. There are good days and there
are bad days. But I know that he loves me and that I will always
have a Godly household. Our common goal is to love and obey God."
"He's an Anglo?" Salina asked. "I would
never marry outside of my race. Everything for my race and nothing
for anyone else."
"I know what you mean," Lydia said smiling.
"We are both part of the body of Christ and that makes us the same race.
Besides, my mother is Anglo."
Maria Elena regretted what Salina said but
Lydia did not seem offended and they went on talking for half an hour.
Despite the excitement this huge boat cutting smoothly through the river
water and the big meal made her groggy for more sleep.
"Why are there so few men with you?" Lydia
asked right before she left.
"They were killed fighting the demons," Salina
answered. "Most of them died trying to protect the big church we
were hiding in five days ago."
"Yes," Lydia said. "We have been fighting too. We lost one
hundred and one at a nursing home and about one hundred and forty at our
"This whole world is cursed," Salina said.
"We have all earned our misery," Maria Elena added.
"Christ is there for us no matter what misery and curses," Lydia said.
"Those of us who are strong have to keep our faith so that those with us
who are not strong will have hope." The time came for Lydia to go
serve food on the Anglo-Asian side. "I will come back and talk to
you later, girls," she said and left.
Maria Elena and her three friends continued
talking about Lydia with admiration. Even Salina said she was all
right. They finally spread their sleeping bags and lay down to go
* * *
The seven-foot-tall gargoyle named Pike squatted in the darkness on the
top edge of an old high-rise office building near the Mississippi River.
Next to it slept a winged sphinx named Nana Porsche. Suddenly the
electricity came back on and the city lit up all around them. Pike
stood up, securely gripping the edge of the building with its bird-like,
clawed feet, and scanned down the fog draped river now reflecting back
the city lights.
"What is it?" Nana asked in a sibilant voice. It rose up on its
four legs and stretched itself awake. Only Nana's head appeared
human. The face had the high cheek bones of a statuesquely
beautiful woman, the top of its head crowned with a tawny Mohawk, but
its mouth contained the fangs of a lioness.
Pike didn't answer. It spread its great
pterosaur wings and flew down to the bridge closest to the Saint Louis
Arch. Nana followed and landed next to Pike on the top beam in the
middle of the bridge. Nana folded the feathered wings against its
tawny lioness body and peered downstream into a hole in the fog to the
"A barge," Nana said. "That's the first one in weeks. The
lights back on too. The G.O.G. is finally restoring order."
"That's the third one to go by. Maybe the fourth."
"A convoy for protection?"
"If they were authorized they wouldn't need
"If they're not official then maybe we can feed," Nana said as its
leonine tail twitched methodically back and forth. "Who do you
think is trying to get by?"
"I don't know. There's a little town
about a hundred-and-ten klicks upriver that has a big barge dock."
"You mean the county with the Christian
throwbacks that's quarantined? The one we're supposed to hit
"Yeah. Where's the special phone?"
"Back at the roost hidden underneath the bone
"Go get it."
"I need to feed."
"Go!" Pike's raised, ocean-deep voice sent Nana
flying off. A minute later the sphinx returned carrying a travel
bag by the handle with its mouth. Pike retrieved the satellite
phone from inside the travel bag and speed-dialed Wolfgang Honecker,
quickly informing the new G.O.G. commander there was a barge convoy
passing through Saint Louis.
"There is no barge traffic authorized at night
that I am aware of," Wolfgang said. "There are too many
transgenics in the water. You will fly down to the lead barge and
talk to whoever is in charge. I want to know who they are and why
they are traveling down the river tonight. I am ordering a Code
Yellow assembly of the remaining transgenic militia in Saint Louis.
You have thirty minutes to report back. Understood?"
"Yes, thirty minutes, understood," Pike said then signed off. The
gargoyle gave an eerie, bone-vibrating howl, the signal for its two
flying transgenic bodyguards to come immediately. It waited
perched on top of the bridge next to Nana.
"Is he going to inform his commander, Angela, the female neogene?" Nana
"She's not his commander any more. He
turned her in for letting a throwback prisoner escape with secret
information. They zapped her and took her to the torture center
for two weeks straight. She got demoted and they reassigned her to
be an underling to one of the priests in their new official religion."
"That's interesting," Nana said with a sly
smirk. "Who was the throwback prisoner?"
"Her private slave boy."
"That's too rich," Nana chuckled.
"Neogenics are superior beings, right? Sure. Can you believe how
stupid she was to let a throwback punk like that get away from her?"
Before Nana could answer the two squash-headed flying transgenic
bodyguards arrived. Pike stepped off the bridge beam without a
goodbye to Nana and flew off in the lead, down over the misty river and
out of sight.
"Stay here until I call you!" Pike's voice boomed back to Nana Porsche.
"All the transgenic children will feed soon!"
* * *
Barge crewman Dinesh Ray stood on the
darkened deck of Q-1 barge and smiled as they cruised downriver past
the lights of the last exurb south of Saint Louis. Behind them now
were the city's forty-six-thousand bloodthirsty transgenics and six
million hostile-to-indifferent humans, but then the tall,
hump-backed gargoyle with impossible broad shoulders followed by two
vulture-winged, hairy yetis sporting misshapen gourd-heads silently
emerged out of the river mist and landed on the deck of Q-1.
The gargoyle walked up to Dinesh and demanded in an inhumanly deep
voice to talk immediately to whoever was in charge.
When twenty-year-old Dinesh climbed up into the barge pilothouse,
Captain Chaudhuri saw terror in the young man's eyes. The Captain,
as serenely as he could make himself, climbed down the metal stairs to
the deck and confronted the three transgenics.
"Who authorized you to come down this river at night? You're
putting hundreds of transgenic children in danger."
It was the first time the captain had seen a transgenic up close.
The presence of the incredible-looking beings shocked him in a way he
thought nothing could. Most surprisingly, instead of animalistic
the reptilian gargoyle spoke bureaucratic, a nightmare traffic cop
policing a newly annexed suburb of the infernal regions.
"I assure you we are authorized and that we are taking every precaution
to prevent any tragedies. My pilots are all running at no more
than half speed. We use sonar and know exactly what is in front of
us and underneath us at all times."
"Who authorized you?"
"I am not at liberty to tell you who, but I will say that some of our
cargo is vital for our friends from the EU."
"Answer the question!" Pike boomed out. The gargoyle started
taking deep breaths, working itself up to attack.
"There are certain essential dietary
supplements that are in short supply down south. Only the enhanced
Europeans require them and the supply has been cut off due to sabotage.
We have been authorized by the highest level of the world government in
Lisbon to do this top secret run from Davenport to Memphis."
Captain Chaudhuri surprised himself at the calmness in his own voice.
Maybe when this was over he could afford to become a terrified wreck,
but he could not afford it now.
Pike slowly backed away from edge of violence.
It looked over its shoulder and signaled to the two bodyguards to relax,
then moved closer to the Captain, giving an open mouth sneer revealing
fangs caked with rancid blood. Captain Chaudhuri nearly retched at
the putrid breath. The Captain's reaction made the gargoyle's face
beam into a horrifying full smile, all its fangs exposed above the
"What other cargo are you carrying, Captain?" Pike demanded.
"Just grain and other agricultural commodities."
"Any passengers other than crew?"
"No, we just have crew aboard."
"Individuals under my command are very hungry, Captain. Are you
carrying any livestock?" The gargoyle's eyeshine was bright amber.
Its breath grew worse.
"No, no livestock aboard. But we may be able to negotiate
compensation that will allow you to buy any kind of fresh meat you want
on the black market in the Tenderloin District. In exchange for
providing security to protect us from sabotage from the Christians,
we'll pay for the feeding of hundreds."
"Amero dollars are defunct."
"Euros are not."
"You have the means to pay in Euros?" Pike the gargoyle looked
incredulous as Captain Chaudhuri produced a hand-held wireless A.I.
unit. Pike produced its A.I. unit and they dickered for a few
minutes, the gargoyle soon agreeing to a five-figure number. Pike
punched in its E.U. bank account number then watched the small monitor
as the symbol for the Euro, the princess Europa represented as a nude
Caucasian woman riding on a scarlet bull, traveled to his account site
and appeared to deposit the hard currency. Pike chuckled after
reading the apparent confirmation.
"Perhaps you can provide security for us again
sometime," said Captain Chaudhuri. He meant it as a farewell.
"One more thing," Pike said. "I demand permission to check for
stowaways from that Christian county that murders transgenics."
"Certainly, be my guest," the Captain replied.
Pike and the two squash-headed flying yetis started literally sniffing
around the large plastic barrels surrounding the pilothouse. Their
sense of smell was nearly as sensitive as a hound dog's and could pick
up the scent of blood from miles away.
"Open this one," Pike commanded.
Captain Chaudhuri ordered Dinesh and another
crew member to pry open the barrel. He barely suppressed a smile
as the yellow powder from inside wafted out of the container. All
three transgenics began coughing and one of the flying yetis finally
"What is this?" Pike roared out between violent
sneezes as well as gagging and coughing.
"It's curry powder. We're going to sell it to the Asian community
in Memphis for an extra profit."
"You foreigners eat the most disgusting stuff!" Pike yelled at the
Captain then spread its wings and flew up into the black sky. The
two flying yetis followed closely.
"Sorry about that, old chum," Captain Chaudhuri
replied as he watched them disappear into the misty night.
* * *
Wolfgang Honecker stood in his new
black and scarlet uniform listening to Pike's report on the
satellite phone. Surrounding him under the Saint Louis Arch
were over two thousand transgenic monsters looking and acting very
hungry. Wolfgang ordered Pike to stay back out of sight but to
keep following the convoy of five barges until he could check out
"Banshee Leader 1, come in," Wolfgang said into the satellite phone
after signing off with Pike. Banshee Leader 1 was the commander of
the transgenic militia poised in the marsh on the northern border of
"Banshee Leader1 here, over."
"Any enemy activity along the Mississippi River tonight?"
"My agents across the river at the marina reported the loading of some
barges with large crates. I assumed it was grain for bartering,
"Fool! You should have reported it. The timetable for action
is now moved up twenty-four hours. You will attack from the north
and from across the river immediately. I want the two major river
towns taken and a report back from you within the hour, understood?"
Wolfgang ordered a Code Red assembly of the transgenic militia.
The nightmarish creatures gathered tightly around him, becoming even
more agitated and restless with anticipation that their hunger would
soon be satiated. It was certainly for the best, anyway.
Everyone in the G.O.G. North American Command would soon see the success
of his blitzkrieg strategy. Angela's overly sophisticated
conspiracy to arouse suspicion between the Christian factions in
conjunction with targeted assassinations of Christian leaders was
nothing but a pathetic valentine to her Jihadist icons. Wolfgang
called in for a spy satellite report and waited for twenty minutes,
pacing back and forth with the satellite phone up against his right ear.
In contrast to Wolfgang's frantic pacing, Nana
Porsche lay calmly against the south base of the Saint Louis Arch,
gazing intently at its front paws. The winged sphinx never grew
tired of watching the claws retract and extend. When Wolfgang
suddenly halted the sphinx looked up from its claws. With intense
green eyes Nana watched the neogene rub his crew-cut head anxiously with
his left hand as he listened to the report on the phone.
The satellite report astonished Wolfgang.
The heat signatures of over two thousand people had been loaded into
five barges this evening. Fools! Incompetent vermin! The
Christians were attempting a total breakout, not the partial escape of a
few dozen that he suspected. What would happen to his status?
What would North American Command do to him if so many escaped? It
was unthinkable. Before he could call it Banshee Leader 1 reported in.
"The river towns, Bluff City and Riverton, as well as their museum
fortress are empty, Commander. The prisoners we've taken and
interrogated all say the Christians sneaked out of the county tonight,
"Attack!" Wolfgang shouted out into the throng of ravenous monsters.
"Go down the river and find the five barges. Kill everyone who
resists and bring the rest to the Aztec Stadium Pyramid Temple.
Each flying transgenic must carry one non-flying transgenic. Go,
Nana leaped up first and flew off. Like a
swarm of giant locusts the rest of the transgenic militia lifted off
together behind the winged sphinx and headed downriver. Wolfgang
busied himself coordinating the Satellite weapons attack on the barge
convoy. It was now 02:11 hours, already a long night for the
transgenics. Like most predators they needed long periods of rest
and this made the beasts even more repugnant to Wolfgang since he did
not require any base thing like sleep.
* * *
Colonel Daniel Diamond was praying on his knees inside the back grain
hold of Q-5 barge. Dan suddenly ceased praying and stood up.
"This is Rooster. It's time. I'm coming up now," Dan said
into his radio headset. He collected his weapons, shouldering two
rifles. One was a modern sniper rifle and the other was an
old-fashioned flintlock. Johnny D'Soussa roused the other troopers
to get their weapons.
"Let's go," Dan ordered.
The troopers followed him to the ladder to get onto the deck. As
Dan climbed up the metal ladder the barge seemed to come alive with
shouts and unearthly screams. When he emerged on deck there were
already dozens of transgenics fighting with axe-wielding crewmen.
Out of the misty black sky upriver what seemed like thousands flying
down at them.
The Colonel drew his two .40 caliber autopistols and put precisely aimed
hollow point bullets into the skulls of two winged monsters about to
kill a prostrate crewman. He started firing at some in the air and
dropped four more. Other firearms started going off all around
him. The familiar stench of cordite and blood and the deafening
burping of semi-automatic rifles engulfed everything around him once
again. The transgenics kept coming straight at the troopers as if
they believed the blasting guns were just a trick.
When the .40 caliber clips were empty Colonel
Diamond switched to his night-vision-scoped M-14 sniper rifle and began
taking long shots. The flying transgenics started backing off,
finally realizing the troopers were not shooting blanks.
you take long shots!" The Colonel had to remind several troopers.
They were wasting too much ammunition already.
When the pilothouse and derrick were secured,
Colonel Diamond and Johnny D'Soussa climbed onto the hoisted platform.
The Colonel spoke into his radio headset and the derrick operator began
hoisting them 360 degrees around the barge. He shot two
dozen more bizarre creatures crawling up out of the murky river onto the
sides. When Q-5 was cleared and the shooting slacked off, his
hands started shaking a little. It would be best if he could keep
firing so he ordered the derrick operator to position them as far in
front of the barge as possible. Dan took some mile-long shots at
the monsters swarming the Q-4 barge. He dropped many more but
could tell that barge was already in trouble. All five vessels
roared their barge horns, revving up to full speed down this straight
stretch of river. Through the clearing mist he saw multiple muzzle
flashes going off lighting up all the barges ahead like fireworks.
The troopers on Q-4 were firing furiously but they were getting hit the
hardest for some reason.
"Come on, woolly-bully, lift that pointy head
up just a little higher," Dan whispered. The enormous, shaggy
sasquatch finally rose up full height trying to bust through the
barricade of steel barrels protecting the steps to the Q-4 pilot house.
Dan shot and the formidable creature that was part man, part
Gigantopithecus crumpled to the deck.
The warning signal came on the special Israeli-made anti-satellite rifle
Johnny D'Soussa was carrying for him. He traded Johnny his M-14
for the shiny chrome weapon. The blocky rifle was bulky with its
giant telescopic site but somehow well balanced.
"Let's see what this thing can do," the Colonel said.
Eighty to ninety miles above the river battle G.O.G. satellite spies and
weapons were converging. Dan located his first satellite target
and the old-fashioned built-in computer inside the weapon helped line up
the shot. It took into account everything from the curvature of
the Earth to the temperature differential between the surface and outer
space. He carefully pressed the button that fired the special
projectile at close to the speed of light. It was a near miss. He
waited thirty seconds for the weapon to power up again, aimed and fired.
There was a direct hit this time, confirmed by the telescopic site.
He made five more shots and confirmed that each destroyed a satellite
weapon or spy. A big smile spread across his face as he turned to
"I've got to tell Judson and Noah about this
satellite hunting. Taking out a half-a-billion Euro satellite is
way more fun than shooting skeets or even flushing a covey of quail."
* * *
When the attack began on the vanguard barge Q-1, Davy-Jake Diamond
emerged first with an Uzi submachine gun in his left hand and his
seventeen-inch-long Bowie knife in his right. All around the
spotlighted deck the Asian-American barge crew were fighting transgenic
monsters with axes and sledgehammers. The barge horn blared like a
colossal bagpipe, hopefully preventing the transgenics from using their
infrasonic screams. The huge, mostly flat vessel accelerated up to
full speed, slamming dozens of aquatic transgenics under as they speed
Davy-Jake aimed at a dive-bombing griffin. He squeezed the trigger
for the first time sending a belch of fire out the barrel. The
part-man, part-falcon fell out of the air twenty feet onto the deck.
A pair of wet werewolves climbed up over the side of the barge in time
to see him shoot the gun.
"The throwbacks have guns!" one of them shouted.
"They're not supposed to have guns!" The
other shouted then both turned and jumped back overboard.
"We have guns!" Davy-Jake hollered then gave a
war-whoop like one of his distant Shawnee ancestors. The tall, sinewy
youth plunged into the fray as the twenty-four other troopers emerged
from below. Gunfire erupted from the growing circle of troopers
expanding out from the manhole as they began clearing the deck of
The last transgenic beast to fall was a ten-foot-tall troll that had
webbed feet and hands. It looked half-man, half-bullfrog, but was
covered with short, filthy white hair. Davy-Jake and the other
troopers surrounded it. He fired multiple shots into its chest,
but the thing wouldn't go down. Finally Davy-Jake rushed in,
avoiding swipes from the enormous clawed hands, jumped up and in like he
was making a slam dunk but instead of a basketball he plunged the Bowie
knife between the troll's bulging eyes. It fell as dead weight and the
rest of the troopers along with the barge crew cheered.
Judson Hawkingson and Rick Machado came out of the manhole last.
Rick had to carry the heavy .50 caliber machine gun and ammunition.
Judson fired a 12 gauge pump shotgun up into the sky and a
seven-foot-tall wyvern crashed onto the deck with a broken wing.
Judson finished the screeching thing with another blast from the
shotgun. They moved on fast to the derrick platform and climbed
"That was the biggest flying one I ever saw,"
Rick shouted over the deafening racket of blasting guns, screaming
transgenics, and blaring barge horn.
"Davy-Jake said he saw one way bigger than that
at the Sterlings' house," Judson shouted back. They went to work
setting up the .50 caliber machine gun. When they finished Judson
ordered the derrick operator to hoist them up.
The river fog had dissipated but an acrid
gunpowder smoke hung low around the boat. When they rose above it
Rick saw the surprisingly entrancing sight of multiple muzzle flashes
erupting from the other barges behind them upriver. The
reflections on the black river water were beautiful and ominous at the
same time. He wanted to try to paint what he was seeing on a
memorial mural some day, but when Judson started firing the .50 caliber
he forgot about artistic inspiration.
The earsplitting machine gun made Rick want to jump off. The
vibration went directly into his bones and rattled his brain inside his
skull. After Judson dropped eight or nine flying transgenics out
of the air the monsters flew back out of range. Rick tapped
Judson's shoulder and pointed downriver. Hundreds of flying
transgenics were dropping other transgenics into the water in front of
their barge. Many were already swimming up to the sides of the
vessel to climb aboard.
Judson ordered the derrick operator to swing
them far out over the water on each side of the barge. He fired
patterns into the water and single shots into the monsters climbing up
Rick fired the shotgun for the first time at a one-eyed goblin scurrying
up the back of the barge. The creature shrieked and fell into the
river. Rick gave a grim smile then glimpsed the huge serpent humps
undulating in and out of the river water behind them.
"Hey, back there! It's a river dragon." Rick shouted but
Judson didn't respond. Rick looked closely at the man and saw that
his shoulder had been torn open by a rifle bullet. "Let's take
care of that," Rick said.
"No time," Judson replied, coming back from the shock of being hit by
one of his own troopers bullets. He ordered the derrick operator
to swing them behind the barge. Judson fired at the humps and the
monster dived completely under the murky river water. They were
passing through a narrow part of the river channel. The river
dragon knew what it was doing, if it could wreck the lead barge here
then all the barges would be blocked.
The one-hundred-foot-long, seven ton river
dragon surfaced alongside the Q-1 barge then immediately dived again.
Judson and Rick followed, shooting their guns down into the water where
they thought it would be. They crossed over the barge many times
but Judson couldn't get a direct hit at the monster's head.
Finally Judson ordered them to be hoisted down close to the water on the
rear starboard side.
"What are we doing down here?" Rick asked.
He had a bad feeling about being this close to the water.
"Bait," Judson replied. At that instant
he started firing the machine gun at the foaming wake close to
pilothouse. Out of nowhere a hideous merman surfaced right under
them and almost skewered Judson with a trident. Rick managed two
shotgun blasts into its face and the monster sank down in a cloud of
"You don't have to say thanks," Rick quipped, but then Judson quit
firing. Neither of them noticed Judson got hit with another
bullet, this time in the leg, the wound hemorrhaging lots of blood from
the femoral artery. Rick used one of the tampons he had been
issued to stop the bleeding in the unconscious man's leg. Rick
kept his eyes on the river dragon rising out of the water. When he
finished the first aide he tore the radio headset off Judson's shaggy
blond head and ordered the derrick operator to hoist them directly at
the beast. The serpent rose out of the murky water like a gigantic
S, moving faster than an animal that size should have been able to move,
just seconds away from crashing its jaws through the pilothouse windows.
"Og, you're a runt!" Rick shouted then fired
the .50 caliber machine gun. The monster turned its horned head,
bellowing louder than the barge horn. Rick kept firing, screaming
in rage as the derrick hoisted platform swung in and the furious river
dragon charged straight at the source of its pain. Rick fired into
the open fanged mouth about to engulf him but right before they collided
the beast reared back and dropped into the river. It gave a final
great moan and sank under the water.
Rick waited until they were safely through the narrow channel then
ordered the derrick operator to set them down on deck. He waited
with Judson until Helen Gunther got to them. As the nurse tended
Judson's wounds, Mayor Marianne Lewis climbed onto the deck. She
frantically shouted out for Judson. When Rick answered her she ran
to the unconscious man and dropped to her knees, cradling his head in
her lap. Judson was supposed to be a confirmed bachelor but it
looked like he and the mayor had been carrying on a secret romance.
It surprised Rick because those two were about as far apart politically
as Christians could be.
No more transgenic monsters could be seen in the water ahead. They
were about ten miles from the river island town of Kaskaskia.
Downriver another thirty miles was the dock where they would all
disembark. Amazingly none of them on board were dead but two
crewmen were missing and presumed dead. Almost everyone who fought
was wounded and eleven including Judson were severely wounded and had to
quickly get to a hospital to survive. Five of them, like Judson,
were hit by their own comrade's bullets.
Rick sat down on the deck away from everyone, holding the shotgun
straight up in his hands. There was relief but it had come too
suddenly. He wished he could talk to Jill. It was the only
thing he could think about that wasn't something crazy. He prayed
he would see her soon and that this barge had the most casualties of the
* * *
Inside the pilothouse of Q-4, Lydia held her crossbow taut, ready to
fire if anything came through the cracked glass of the large front
window. Beside her Salina aimed her crossbow at the barricaded
door. In the center of the pilothouse the wounded barge pilot
slouched over the controls. Everyone else who had fought on deck was
gone. Three times Lydia climbed down into the holds to get
volunteers to fight. In all, over a hundred mostly women and a few
old men climbed up the metal ladder to back up the original seventy-five
troopers and nineteen crew members. Now all those volunteers were
dead except bitter, tough Salina.
Why did the transgenics swarm this barge?
Could they smell more fear here? Did they hear more children
crying in the holds? Or did they know this barge had fewer men?
Dan put most of the skilled fighters on the first and last barges of the
convoy. He had made a mistake. The realization caused Lydia
to say a quick prayer for him.
No monsters on the barge now except for the dead and dying. Before
retreating inside, Lydia and Salina dumped out the heavy barrels of
curry powder onto the deck around the pilothouse. The fiery powder
gagged the monsters until they flew off, but Lydia knew they were still
out there in the darkness. Black silhouettes circling like a flock
of giant buzzards waiting for the irritant to dissipate; they blocked
out the stars.
The Mississippi River here took some sharp turns. They couldn't
see either the barge ahead or the last barge, Q-5, behind them.
For some reason their radio quit working, probably from a stray bullet,
but the other barges knew they were in trouble. Lydia kept
watching out the cracked glass of the large front window for any
Rifle shots rang out from in front of the
barge. After a few minutes Lydia saw two shadowy figures bent over
running. Occasionally the pair stopped to shoot but mostly they
just dodged away from the dive-bombing transgenics as they made their
way towards the pilothouse. Lydia recognized Noah Johnson and his
son Zeke. She spoke quickly to Salina in Spanish and they both
worked hurriedly to open a space in the sandbag barricade at the
Noah Johnson huffed and puffed a little with his extra weight but he was
still a robust and welcome presence in his floppy U.S. cavalry hat and
authentic blue uniform that had been his father's. He carried the same
lever-action Winchester he sported as a teenager thirty-nine years
earlier when he participated with his father in the last Buffalo Soldier
reenactment in Arizona. Dan had stashed the rifle and bullets away
for him right before the ban on the private ownership of firearms.
The rifle felt good in his hands after all these years and he gave Lydia
a half smile. Right beside him his son Zeke held a modern-looking
M-16 rifle Dan issued to most of the troopers. Zeke was on the
basketball team with Davy-Jake and was one of his scouts, not to mention
being the best man at her wedding. Lydia welcomed him with a big
"I'm glad to see you but I wish you weren't
here," she said. "Any more coming?"
"Were five others with us, but they made it to the Kingdom, not this
barge," Noah responded. He turned to his son. "I'm down to
"My clip is empty, Pop. I've got one left in the chamber, I
think," Zeke said.
Noah passed two extra .223 caliber bullets to Zeke then pulled out a
pistol with a long barrel. It somehow looked familiar. He
reached out to hand it to her but Lydia waved it away.
"It's a Colt revolver, a cowboy six-shooter. Go on, take it.
It's still got six bullets."
"No, you keep it. I don't know how to
shoot a gun. I'm afraid I might shoot one of you."
"Why they hitting your barge so hard?" Noah asked as he holstered the
"I don't know. They must have figured out
we were the weakest."
"Your husband on Q-1 and your father-in-law on
Q-5 did some good work, knocked 'em down out of the sky until they
couldn't take any more and just flew away. Your brother Rick too,
they said he put down the biggest terato-freak-of-nature in the whole
Mississippi River Valley after Jud got hit by one of our own. I'm
sure by the Grace of God Jud'll pull through. That man's too
mule-headed to stay down, anyway."
"You said it right, Pop. Judson's too tough to die from something
dumb like that."
"Dumb or not, if the Lord wills it anybody can
die, son. I just don't think it's his time yet. Miss
Marianne the mayor has plans for old Judson and that may have something
to do with it too." Noah flashed an insider's smile then grew
serious. "We lost eight troopers and it took us awhile but we finally
cleared off Q-3 about twenty minutes ago. We heard you all were in
trouble, so I got Zeke and five volunteers. We tried to row over to meet
you but they hit us as soon as we got the little boat close to you.
They're thick over this barge, ain't no lie. Don't anybody worry though;
Diamond Dan and his boys on Q-5 will get over to help us. We just got to
slow down to let 'em catch up." Noah strode over to the barely conscious
barge pilot still manning the controls in the center of the dimly lit
pilothouse. They talked in whispers as Noah checked the wounded man's
"You have any water, Lid?" Zeke asked. He licked his lips then
"Sure." Lydia handed him her bottle. Relief spread across
his face as he drank.
"Who's your cute friend?" he asked. Just
a minute ago his keen almond eyes held a mixture of fear along with
pride at fighting beside his father.
"Her name is Salina. Sorry, she doesn't
speak English so she didn't catch your compliment." Lydia wondered
at the ability of guys to recover so quickly from terror. To think
about romance when surrounded by ravenous, cannibalistic monsters amazed
her. Something beyond terror and horror branded Lydia tonight. She
knew she would never be the same again after witnessing dozens of
neighbors mauled to death or sometimes eaten alive as they screamed to
God for help. The horrific creatures attacking them were also once
her neighbors. Her mother-in-law lay dead out on the deck.
How could she tell what happened to Roscoe her twelve-year-old
brother-in-law still down below with five hundred other terrified women
and children? Dear God, they just wanted to live. Davy-Jake
always complained that she worried too much about other people but
loving concern for other people was all that was left of the girl he
married. There was no Lydia anymore if you took that away.
"What's a matter, Lid?" Zeke asked then handed
back the almost empty water bottle.
"Nothing. Hey, thanks for leaving the
backwash, Zeke Johnson," Lydia said, managing a slight sarcastic grin.
Zeke smiled back. Maybe she could pretend to be the fun girl she
used to be, if that's what people wanted. Right now she felt so
close to the survivors on this barge and especially here in the
pilothouse that she would do whatever it took to help them. If
only Mr. Johnson would keep talking to them, tell them stories in that
Lydia felt the barge slow down. She turned to Salina, intending to
translate Zeke's complement even though his flirtation with the proud
Latina probably wouldn't go anywhere.
"Something is outside," Salina interrupted, whispering rapidly in
"She heard something," Lydia said just loud enough for everyone inside
Noah sidled away from the barge pilot, aiming his Winchester rifle at
the large front window. Salina slowly moved away from the
barricaded door on their right side, keeping one eye on it even as she
glowered at the large front window. Zeke backed into the wall,
pointing his rifle at the smaller window on the left side. Lydia
got down on her hands and knees and crawled to the bottom edge of the
front window--that much too large window a car could drive through.
She started to turn her face up to peek through the cracked glass to see
the sky directly above.
What happened next seemed so finely detailed to
Lydia. Something big flew down and the front window exploded
glass. A seven-hundred-pound, hairy cinnamon colored beast crashed
through head first. Noah and Zeke emptied their rifles before
realizing the thing was already dead, had already been shot through the
brain. Before anyone could look away from the corpse, a winged
beast with a woman's head and a lioness body flew through the busted out
front window. It lunged faster than Lydia ever saw any living
thing move, swiped at Salina knocking her backwards before she could
fire her crossbow. Next it attacked Noah, slamming his face with
its clawed front paws until he went down. The sphinx gave a
human-big cat snarl then pounced on the barge pilot.
The sphinx tore at the barge pilot with its claws as it held him by the
throat with its fangs, at the same time knocking Zeke back with
incredibly powerful wings. Lydia swatted the broken glass off of
her face in time to clearly see Noah shoot the cowboy pistol, fanning
the gun's hammer with his right hand to make the bullets come out
faster. Though now blinded, the man still hit the monster with
four shots. The last bullet pierced the heart and the sphinx
released the barge pilot. The monster screamed like a terrified
woman but louder and in a higher pitch than any human woman could have.
Zeke gave an enraged battle cry as he leaped onto the sphinx. He
pulled its head back by the tawny Mohawk and cut the scream short with
his big knife.
Before Lydia could get up more shots rang out. She stared
dumbfounded as Noah and Zeke went down from gunshots. A
seven-foot-tall gargoyle with a rag covering its face stooped to come
inside through the broken out front window. It carried one of
their black M-16 rifles that looked like a toy in its huge clawed hands.
Pike cursed and moved to the sphinx's prostrate
body. Lydia aimed the crossbow and pulled the trigger before it noticed
her. Her arrow pierced the gargoyle's lower left arm. It
whirled around to shoot her but then the barge hit a sandbar. The
collision made Pike miss its last shot. Instead of attacking
Lydia, it threw the rifle at her then reached down with its one good
arm. Pike pulled Nana Porsche's body up by the scruff of the neck and
embraced it. The Gargoyle went out the way it came in. Cursing and
jabbering, it spread its great wings and flew, barely able to carry the
three-hundred-fifty-pound dead weight. The airborne transgenics
backed off temporarily from the barge when they saw Pike fly off with
Nana Porsche's limp body.
* * *
Dan Diamond was out of ammunition for the sniper rifle so he used his
black powder horn and loaded his back-up flintlock rifle. He and
Johnny arced back and forth slowly in front of the pilothouse in the
derrick-hoisted platform. No more mist but no targets presented
themselves in the roving spotlight. He sent orders for no one but
him to shoot for now.
"Ammunition's too short to fool around," he said into the headset.
No new transmissions from Q-4 and it worried the colonel. The
Kentucky rifle loaded for a long shot, he readied himself for more work
once the out-of-communication barge was in range again. The
Mississippi River aggravated him with its sharp bends. "We're
going to meet ourselves coming and going," he said to himself more than
"Colonel," Johnny said, interrupting Dan's concentration on the river
ahead. "Look over on the left bank behind us."
Dan looked back, straining to see into the blackness. He heard
then saw the giant, a twenty-foot-tall silhouette shaped like
Tyrannosaurus Rex stalking along the bank. A stiff tail protruded
behind it for balance, the only difference its long arms proportioned
more like a human's. The spotlight hit it and Dan saw the
misshapen face clearly and then saw it held a tube-shaped object in its
arms. Fire came out of the tube and an explosion sprayed water
onto Dan and Johnny.
"It's got a cannon!" Johnny shouted. "We better use the Israeli
gun on it."
"I've got him," Dan said, leveling his flintlock rifle on his shoulder.
He knew who it was now. Shooting the black powder gun required a
different aiming skill because there were two explosions instead of one.
He pulled the trigger and the .50 caliber hollow-point bullet slammed
into one of the giant's knees.
"DIAMOND!" bellowed Otto Galloway. The giant stumbled down the
muddy bank and into the water as it tried to reload the recoilless gun.
Dan ignored the booming cursing from the
enormous monster and reloaded his Kentucky rifle. He brought the
rifle up and took aim again. The second bullet went deep into the
giant's other kneecap. It fired the recoilless gun one more time
as it fell forward into the river. The missile went over the barge
and hit the tree lined river bank on the other side. The big
explosion uprooted a tree. As the barge sped away, Dan and Johnny
watched the giant flounder pitifully, unable to get its head out of the
water to take a breath. Dan thought how strange it was that this
monster had once been a normal human baby cooing to his mother.
"You know the problem with being a giant?" Dan
"What would that be, sir?"
"Nobody can help you if you fall down and can't get back up."
"I think you're right, Colonel. Is that
who I think it is?"
"Yeah, that was old Otto Galloway."
"Where do you think his kids are?"
"You know them, they always slick out of any
* * *
"River King, this is Rooster, come in."
"River King here, over."
"Request permission to take ten volunteers to help evacuate Q-4, over."
"Permission denied, Rooster. Radar has
thousands more uninvited guests driving down Old Man River Road to crash
our Sunday morning potluck. Whoever stops will be lost and we
can't afford to lose our sunscreen or we'll all get sunburned tonight.
I know who is on Q-4 but I can't let you stop. I'm sorry, over."
"Americans never leave a man behind," Dan whispered sarcastically.
"Say again, Rooster."
"Nothing," Dan said after a long pause.
"Roger that, over and out."
Dan saw the stranded barge now. The
lights were out and in the blackness the barge looked abandoned.
Q-5 slowed as they passed by. The derrick operator extended their
platform out towards Q-4 as far as it could go. As their spotlight
slowly slid across the dark pilothouse of Q-4, Dan saw the busted out
front window then at the edge of the spotlight caught a glimpse of a
familiar pony-tailed girl crawling out of a tipped over barrel.
"Hey, come over to the side and jump," Dan called out in a low strong
voice that didn't carry any farther than her ears. "I'll throw you
a line and have you out of the water in five seconds."
Lydia stood up straight with her crossbow.
She waved slowly at Dan and Johnny with her right arm then disappeared
down into a manhole.
Dan couldn't help it, despite the death and
suffering of his relatives and long-time friends he just felt sorry for
himself. People who had not really accepted God's grace, that were
not truly born-again, often had a bottom line with God. One
church-going man he knew as a boy rejected God after his stock portfolio
crashed. Sara, his wife, was like that in a different way.
Every night the woman prayed fervently for her children. Sara
believed God sent her children to save her from the depravity of life in
a tower. If she knew something happened to either Rick or
Lydia this "salvation by motherhood" would seem nothing but a mockery to
her. Sara would turn her back on God and on him. His
marriage was probably over.
IX. The Eagle
"There are only seventeen lifejackets; there should be nineteen,"
Lydia whispered desperately in Spanish to Maria Elena.
"Who will get to use the lifejackets?" Maria Elena whispered back. What
had happened to Lydia? It registered then. They were all lost; it was
the end. She could see it in Lydia's blood splattered face, in her runny
nose from the hot spices she had covered herself with. "Where is
"She's unconscious. I hid her with my friend. He is also unconscious and
badly wounded. Everyone else who fought outside is dead. There is no
time to explain. Choose eight children that you know can run fast."
Lydia broke off the conversation. She hurried through the doorway into
the English-speaking hold.
When Lydia returned with the seven Anglo and two Asian-American children
three minutes later, Maria Elena was waiting with a tightly packed group
of eight Latino children. Lydia ordered each of the seventeen children
to choose partners and then commanded them to follow her up the metal
ladder. Maria Elena ran over to Lydia, seizing her arm before she
"What are the rest of us to do?" Maria Elena whispered.
"When I return we will reinforce the doors,"
Lydia spoke softly so only Maria Elena heard. "We will try to hold them
back until help comes. If they break through we will surrender. If we
stop fighting then maybe some of us will be taken prisoner."
Twelve-year-old Roscoe Diamond followed Lydia up the ladder. He was the
oldest boy left. It was about time they let him fight. Surely his mother
would be up top and he would be joining her. Were there even any
monsters left? But something made him and the other children keep quiet.
Lydia's face told him they were in deep trouble.
On deck a blood smell like rusty iron
greeted them. Lydia didn't give the children time to react to the
carnage. She ordered them not to look at the bodies, busying them with
strapping on the lifejackets.
"You're in charge," Lydia said to Roscoe. "Lead them down the river a
least a mile and then swim over to the Illinois bank. You're going to
make sure the older ones help the smaller ones. You're going to be a
Christian paladin; you're not going to leave any behind even if they
can't run as fast as you. Dan will send some soldiers back upriver to
find you once he gets the rest of the people into the tunnel complex."
"Where's my mom?" Roscoe asked plaintively.
"Your mother is dead, Roscoe," Lydia said.
"I want to see her."
"No, you don't want to see her," Lydia said
harshly. The boy started sobbing. Lydia shook him, staring him in the
eyes until he stopped.
"Come on, Lydia, come with us," the boy
"No, I'm in command of this barge now. As long as there are people here
I have to stay." Lydia hugged him. "Tell Davy-Jake I'll always love him.
Make sure you tell Dan that Zeke and a girl named Salina are hidden in a
locked storage cabinet inside the pilothouse. Now, everyone, hurry,
Roscoe jumped into the river first and then eleven-year-old Melissa
Harris followed. The other children, aged twelve down to seven, held
hands in groups of two or three and jumped over the side. After they all
splashed into the river, Roscoe gathered them together in a tight ball
like a mother wood duck. Lydia watched over them with her crossbow as
they swam together downriver. When they were out of range of her weapon
she climbed back down inside the barge.
* * *
Pike dropped the sphinx's dead body in front of Wolfgang Honecker. The
hazy, muggy dawn seemed stillborn. They were under the Saint Louis Arch
in front of the stairs that used to lead down into a museum that was now
the command center for the transgenic militia. Wolfgang crossed his arms
and slipped his right hand inside his black and scarlet uniform jacket
to his stun gun as he stared up at the wounded, enraged gargoyle.
"Do you know who this was?" Pike asked
"I've seen your companion before but I didn't
get her name."
"This was Nana Porsche! Before she was enhanced she was the number one
attraction at the Mile-High Tower for three years straight!"
"She is so much refuse now. There are fresh attractions from New Babylon
coming in every day. What is your point?"
"You neogenes promised us weapons. The
Christian throwbacks had guns. We were slaughtered! Half of the flying
transgenics in this region were killed because of you lying neogene
Wolfgang started to explain that the new
munitions factory had been sabotaged, destroyed in an enormous
explosion, but Pike lunged for his throat. Honecker drew his weapon and
discharged a massive electrical current into the seven-foot-tall
gargoyle. In a split-second Pike was electrocuted to death.
"Hang both their bodies from the top of the
Arch," Wolfgang ordered his Scandinavian neogene subordinate. The one
trait the Americans seemed to keep after enhancement was insolence.
Wolfgang intended to send a message.
Presently a very confident Wolfgang Honecker walked down the stairs to
monitor the prisoners being flown to the Aztec Soccer Stadium. Hundreds
had already been delivered from the captured barge. Why the satellite
weapons were nonfunctional was disturbing but was probably only a minor
technical glitch. The other Christians pathetically trying to reach
their outlaw underground lairs would soon be incinerated. But the
neogene commander did not get to relish any victory. Within the hour his
superior arrived by helicopter to demote him and take him into custody.
Wolfgang was deemed responsible for the loss of over
five-and-a-half-billion Euros worth of military satellites.
* * *
Eleven-year-old Melissa Harris was wide-eyed with terror and could not
speak. Her mother had taught her to hate religion, but yesterday Melissa
ran away to join the Christians because last week handsome,
eighteen-year-old Rick Machado had told her the gut-wrenching news that
her half-brother Mike had been killed by a transgenic merman while they
were crossing the Mississippi River. According to Rick, Mike had
converted and was fighting to get back to Moreau County to see her so
that he could tell her about Christian salvation. Now look where she
was: in the middle of this nasty river surrounded by floating corpses of
monsters. The only good thing was the current here was fast and they
were already two river bends downstream from the horror of the stranded
barge. It was long out of sight. Still, she imagined any second some
slimy thing from underneath the murky, maple syrup colored water would
grab her by the legs and pull her under or something gruesome flying out
of the sky would drop down and pluck her out of the river like a
helpless fish and eat her! But maybe the worst part was being stuck with
that know-it-all joker Roscoe Diamond in charge. She knew him from
school and had been the victim of his stupid pranks many times.
The hazy light grew brighter. Melissa and the
other sixteen children quietly paddled on. Suddenly they all heard a
friendly female voice hailing them from upriver. Melissa watched Roscoe
turn slowly around with recognition on his face, but his eyes screamed
that he did not want whoever it was to catch up with them. She did a
quick glance back and saw the sky upriver was full of growing dots.
"Children, wait!" the soothing female voice called out much closer now.
"Kim," Roscoe whispered. "Nobody answer." Though exhausted the children
all began swimming faster. He led them out of the river channel towards
the left bank.
It was Melissa who saw it first. The giant eagle cast a shadow the size
of an airliner. She managed to point her finger straight up as it
blocked out the sky directly above. The younger children started crying
when they looked up.
The flying behemoth soared low over them then
plunged, talons outstretched, straight down at the voice from the river.
Roscoe and Melissa watched as the giant, crested raptor splashed into
the water, immediately rose up and flew at the flock of transgenics
coming downriver. The Eagle's scream was deafening and all the air borne
transgenics scattered, most flying back upriver.
It's probably just fighting them so it can get all of us, Melissa
figured. But it did seem like the giant, beautifully multicolored
creature was trying to protect them. Right now it didn't matter. Maybe
they had a chance. Roscoe ordered them to swim all out and Melissa did,
tugging along a seven-year-old blond boy by his lifejacket as she swam
as fast as she could.
"We're almost there," Roscoe lied. It was still a long way to the bank.
"Don't look back."
* * *
Forty-five miles south of the stranded barge the last of the Christian
refugees from Moreau County disembarked into the hazy morning light.
Colonel Dan Diamond walked his old gasoline powered motorcycle out from
its hiding place in the bushes uphill from the road to the barge dock.
He called out to Rick and Davy-Jake. They hurried over and Dan briefed
them on the situation with the stranded barge.
"The transgenics are taking prisoners, flying
them southwest of Saint Louis to the Aztec Stadium. I got good reports
on both of you last night. It's almost always bad tactics to send
relations on a mission to rescue their family members but I'm making an
exception this time. There's no way I could keep you two Sons of Thunder
from trying something anyways.
"Your primary objective is to rescue anybody that made it off Q-4. Your
secondary objective is to snatch any neogene you go up against. If you
can get one restrained and get him back here, maybe they will agree to a
secret prisoner exchange. It's Lydia's only chance if she's alive."
"How can we restrain a neogene?" Rick asked.
"With this," Dan said and reached deep into one
of his cargo pants pockets. He retrieved a silver stun gun that looked
kind of like an electric razor, just like Angela's. Dan handed it to
Rick. "It cost Israeli Intelligence the lives of twenty operators to get
this weapon. It's the only one our forces have in this hemisphere. I
don't have to tell you I'm risking a court marshal letting you take it.
The weapon has a trigger button here," Dan pointed to a small dot on the
bottom of the handle. "It's the setting they use to torture each other.
It disrupts their nervous system."
Dan gave them two sets of composite handcuffs
and ankle bracelets then ordered them to get going. He watched Davy-Jake
and Rick ride off together on the motorcycle. When they were out of
sight he kneeled and said a quick prayer for them. He rose up and ran
back to the convoy. An old six-wheeled Cougar armored transport vehicle
was waiting and he climbed on top. They had twelve more miles to go to
get to the closest entrance into the secret tunnel complex and most of
the refugees would have to walk. Now resupplied with ammunition, Dan and
his troopers would be covering the rear. Dan would get to use the
Israeli anti-satellite rifle again but the thrill of shooting it was
* * *
In the morning haze the bridge across the grey Kaskaskia River was empty
of traffic. Davy-Jake put away his binoculars and gunned the engine. The
old motorcycle accelerated forward with a lot of stalling. It was
breaking down for sure. He intended to drive himself and Rick fast
across the bridge but when they got halfway, eight men climbed up from
the embankment on the north end and ten men stepped out from hiding
places in the thick shrubs on the south end to entrap them. All the men
held weapons, mostly bludgeons and weed-cutting blades, but a few had
rough-hewn long bows and one on the north end held up a large chainsaw.
Davy-Jake stopped the motorcycle.
"Looks like we got us some Moreau County J-freaks, boys!" a shirtless
man with skinny arms and a pot belly yelled out from the south end.
"We'll collect a reward big enough for a week
at the Mile-High Tower," the stringy-brown-haired leader of the gang of
vigilantes on the north end hollered back. The guy next to him revved
the chainsaw engine and gave a big depraved grin while the rest of them
Rick got off the back of the motorcycle and
pulled out his twelve-gauge shotgun from the scabbard on the side of the
bike. He was used to the feel of the weapon now and had plenty of
"I've got the ones behind us," Rick said quietly to Davy-Jake.
"I'll just be a skinny minute," Davy-Jake said back.
"Try not to wreck the bike."
"Yes, sir," Davy-Jake said without sarcasm. He
pulled out his Uzi sub-machinegun with his left hand and roared the
motorcycle to life with the throttle in his right. Rick was already
walking towards the south end.
"What're you gonna do with that antique, boy?" the shirt-less,
pot-bellied man yelled out.
Rick suddenly ran, weaving back and forth as he charged across the
narrow bridge. An arrow whizzed past his head and he heard Davy-Jake
unleash the Uzi behind him. Rick fired low at the vigilante's legs, the
twelve gauge drowning out the motorcycle and nine millimeter submachine
gun. He fired four rounds of buckshot and six of the men went down. The
rest ran off into the shrubbery as the six wounded men held their legs
and screamed. Rick halted, aiming the shotgun at them while they slowly
dragged themselves off the dusty road.
"Are there any other questions?" Rick shouted
out. He watched them for a few seconds more then turned and ran across
the old steel bridge.
When Rick got to the north end, Davy-Jake was standing next to the
motorcycle, covering two standing old men with the Uzi. Four men were on
the ground, two were moaning and two were silent in the middle of
growing puddles of blood. The one moaning loudest had accidentally cut
off his right kneecap with the chainsaw after Davy-Jake started
shooting. Two others had escaped uphill into the trees.
"Easy now, young man," the oldest-looking old man said to Davy-Jake. "We
don't want nothing with you."
"This is a mistake," the younger-looking old man chimed in.
"'Mistake' is what you call it?" Davy-Jake
hollered at the old men.
"We just joined up with them so we could protect our property," the
oldest one said. Both stretched their arms up as high as they could.
Rick scanned the road uphill from the bridge
and noticed a dump truck partially hidden behind some trees about two
hundred yards away. Davy-Jake's furious gaze never left the prisoners.
The two old men shut up and stared down at the ground.
"Anyone make it off that stranded barge about three miles upriver?" Rick
"Yeah," the younger old man hurried to give the
information first. "There are a bunch of kids trapped in a hollow on
Turkey Island. Some giant terato bird keeps flying over them. Won't let
nothing get near 'em."
"Where's Turkey Island?" Davy-Jake's harsh
words almost knocked the elder man down. He immediately gave the
"We're going to need your dump truck," Rick said. "Who has the keys?"
"Keys!" Davy-Jake bellowed when the two didn't respond quickly enough.
The pair of old men pointed to one of the
silent men on the ground, the stringy-haired leader. Rick walked over
and bent down to search the pockets. This was a human being lying dead
on the ground from DJ's bullets, not a transgenic monstrosity. Rick
found the keys and looked up at Davy-Jake. Davy-Jake stared back with a
so-what look in his grey eyes.
"You two tend to these wounded men," Rick ordered.
"We don't care about them." The youngest-looking old man gave a faint
"Get busy," Rick commanded then turned to
Davy-Jake. "Let's go."
Davy-Jake picked up the motorcycle and kick-started it. The pair of old
men hesitatingly knelt down next to moaning one with the chainsaw
injury. They really did not care to help their wounded comrades. Rick
shook his head and climbed onto the back of the motorcycle.
* * *
Roscoe aimed his powerful slingshot at the ugliest transgenic coming
up the path from the river. The creature looked half man, half
catfish. Roscoe's smooth, perfectly-sized rock slammed into the
nix's forehead. The transgenic gargled out a cry, grabbed his
forehead with slimy webbed hands, turned and lumbered back towards
the river. But the next transgenic creature, a banshee, coming up
the path was more nimble and Roscoe missed. From a distance the
banshee could have passed for a woman but close up Roscoe saw short,
mink-colored hair covered the body and the round nocturnal eyes were
twice the size of a person's eyes. The banshee let out an eerie wail
that grew in volume until all seventeen children hiding in the
thicket of sandbar willows covered their ears. Where had that giant
eagle gone? Roscoe was now sure it had been protecting them. The
banshee's wail grew until it was like an electric shock vibrating
his sternum. He dropped the slingshot and clutched his chest.
The banshee wail suddenly ceased. Out of
nowhere something smaller than Roscoe seized him. Although half his
weight, the creature had many times Roscoe's strength and shoved him
face first down onto the sandy ground that smelled like dead fish.
He struggled but the leprechaun on top of him couldn't be budged.
In the distance Roscoe heard a big engine sound
getting closer. He lifted his head up and saw the banshee and a
familiar man in a blue suit dart into the thicket to hunt down the
other children who had scattered.
Melissa Harris sneaked up behind Roscoe and the
leprechaun. She found the slingshot and got a rock loaded into it.
She hesitated shooting at the leprechaun, afraid she would hit
Roscoe instead. The banshee appeared, chasing a nine-year-old
Hispanic girl around a half grown cottonwood tree. The banshee's
mouth opened like a snake about to eat an egg, but Melissa shot the
rock on target into the gapping mouth and the infrasonic scream was
cut short. The banshee covered her bloody mouth with her shiny
fur-covered hands and dropped to her knees.
Roscoe managed to glimpse what had
happened. He wanted to cheer but heard someone calling his name in
the distance. He yelled out to answer but the leprechaun pushed his
face hard into the sand. Davy-Jake yelled back but Roscoe not only
couldn't answer back, he couldn't even breath. The leprechaun
intended to suffocate him. For too long everything went quiet as
Roscoe futilely struggled for air.
The sandy ground vibrated from running feet and shots rang out.
Davy-Jake's voice called out close by and one of the smaller kids
answered. Lucky Duck the leprechaun leaped off of Roscoe and ran.
Coughing and gasping for air, Roscoe raised his head in time to watch
his older brother shoot at the ugly little monster but somehow miss.
After Lucky Duck escaped into the underbrush, Davy-Jake helped Roscoe up
and brushed him off. Melissa was kicking the dead banshee, now a
crumpled brown-haired heap in the weeds a dozen yards away.
"Get away from that thing," Davy-Jake ordered and she reluctantly
A few minutes later Rick came out of the thicket with the rest of the
children. Melissa ran over to Rick and hugged him, stabbing him in the
back with the slingshot. She wanted to say his name but couldn't speak.
"Your new girlfriend's pretty spunky." Davy-Jake sported a smart-aleck
sneer. A couple of the seventeen bedraggled children giggled and Rick's
"Give me a break, Diamond." Rick said and pried
himself loose from the mute girl.
At that moment Davy-Jake shot the Uzi right past Rick's head. Rick
whirled around with the shotgun and saw a man in a blue suit charging
incredibly fast out of the thicket. The pale-faced man with straight
black hair moved his head and upper body so rapidly DJ's first bullets
completely missed. The man had something in his right hand but Melissa
managed to fire Roscoe's slingshot, the rock hit the silver stun gun
just right and it flew out of the man's hand. At the same time Rick
knocked the man's legs out from under him with an on-target shotgun
blast. He and Davy-Jake riddled the man with bullets and buckshot but
instead of staying down he kept getting back up.
After Rick emptied the shotgun, the man leaped
high off the ground and flipped fifteen feet backwards to retrieve his
stun gun weapon. Right as he got his hand on it, Rick shot his stun gun
and the man in the buckshot-shredded blue suit went down in convulsions.
"We've got one," Rick said. The neogene wasn't
bleeding but a sap-yellow fluid was leaking out from all the wounds on
his face and torso and limbs. The fluid became a protective foam when it
hit the air. A powerful feeling of revulsion came over Rick as he and
Davy-Jake shackled the froth-covered neogene. Not so long ago he almost
had chosen to become an abomination just like this thing.
"But for the Grace of God there goes I," Rick
said under his breath.
"He was one of them that ransacked our house,
Davy-Jake," Roscoe said.
"You don't say? Look's like he's bleeding out
dog vomit now," Davy-Jake said.
Davy-Jake dragged the frothing neogene up the
narrow path to the dump truck. Rick reloaded his shotgun and covered the
rear. After the kids climbed into the bed of the dump truck, Rick gave
them bottles of water and paca jerky to share. He had never seen
children with terror-stricken faces like these; the trauma etched so
deep the little faces appeared old. Most of them were long past crying
"Try to get some sleep." Rick jumped down from
the back of the truck.
Down in the dirt the neogene's convulsing
slowed. Able to speak again, he began hatefully cursing them in a loud,
Welch-accented voice. His body rapidly energized with enraged fury. Rick
shot him with the stun gun again, the invective immediately ceased and
the convulsions returned. Davy-Jake taped his mouth shut with electrical
tape and secured him behind the front seat inside the cab.
"About every twenty minutes we'll have to stun him again," Rick said.
* * *
Davy-Jake slowed the dump truck as they approached the small bridge
over the slough between Turkey Island and the mainland. Wary of
another bridge ambush, he scanned the area ahead with binoculars for
any movement or reflected flashes. Like a vivid dream out of the
hazy sky, the gigantic Eagle landed effortlessly on the road on the
other side of the bridge. The wing span was well over one hundred
feet across and his standing height was over seventeen feet tall.
Davy-Jake stopped the truck. He left the keys
in the ignition and jumped out of the cab. Rick climbed out of the
passenger side with the shotgun. The Eagle seemed to ignore them.
His spectacular, varicolored plumage streaked from metallic green to
orange to purple to silver to a blue so dark it looked black, the
ivory crest on his majestic head streaked with blue-green. Casually
the giant feathered manifestation began preening himself.
"What are we doing?" Rick asked, the site of
the incredible raptor making him forget he was in command.
"Listen." Davy-Jake walked forward without bothering to bring his Uzi.
No birds were singing but all around them in the slough small frogs and
insects chirped and buzzed. The animal noises were subdued but
definitely happening in the presence of the magnificent being blocking
the road ahead of them.
"Maybe the natural wildlife is getting used to
them," Rick said. "Get back in the truck."
"He's not a terato. Roscoe told me this giant
eagle saved their lives. He's not an artificial monster; he's from
another world. He's a thunderbird."
"I said get back in the truck. That's an order,
second lieutenant Diamond." Rick stared at the giant bird of prey again.
The astounding creature sure wasn't native fauna James Audubon forgot to
paint; on close scrutiny Rick could see no evidence of corruption from
human DNA. His movements were too graceful, too natural to be
Davy-Jake ignored Rick's command and kept
walking towards the Eagle. Rick flew into a rage. The insubordination,
the insults, the overheard perceived slander against him, along with the
verbal abuse he knew DJ had given his sister, all that was bad enough.
But now this smart-mouthed, undereducated string bean was putting the
rescued children in danger by walking away from him. One thought raced
across his mind: I'm done taking it. He ran after Davy-Jake, stretched
up and clubbed the side of his head with the butt of the shotgun. DJ
didn't get knocked back or turn to fight, he merely sat down on the
cracked pavement, holding the side of his head with his right hand.
"Your dirty fighting would make old Bad Henry
"I gave you an order. What do think you're
doing?" Almost immediately Rick regretted his impulsive violence. All of
a sudden his hard-won leadership confidence evaporated and his stomach
churned. Instead of making any more decisions he just wanted to crawl
into the nearest hole.
"It's all about you, isn't it, first lieutenant Rick Machado? Always was
just about you and who you can impress. The teachers at school, the
richest girl at church, Dan, Judson, the daddy you never saw. I'm
curious, who are you trying to impress now?"
"You don't know what you're talking about. I'm
not trying to impress anyone."
"You don't really feel anything for anybody
else, do you? What Lydia's going through right now, you don't care one
"She's my sister; don't tell me what I feel."
Davy-Jake laughed softly and took his hand away from his head. A little
trickle of blood ran down the side of his haggard face from his right
temple. He gazed up at Rick with grey eyes full of sarcasm and worry. "I
sure can't tell what you feel for your sister when you don't feel
anything for anybody but yourself."
"This is wasting time. We've got a neogene
prisoner. Dan said..."
"Dan's just keeping us busy. I'm a little more aware of what's going on
than Dan thinks I am. They're not going to give her up. I feel it, this
polluted river and these sick trees and these ugly weeds and the dirty
sky are all screaming it. They're not going to trade her for anybody."
"What good is killing yourself and getting all
these kids killed going to do?"
"I'd let a million people die if it saved
Lydia. That's what loving someone else is like, in case you were
The Eagle's powerful golden-eyed gaze turned on the pair before Rick
could return the insult. There was a fantastic intelligence behind that
penetrating stare and both the young men suddenly knew their hostilities
were unacceptable. The Eagle cocked his head and studied them for what
seemed like a long time. Rick fought to keep standing up under the
"Why are you here? What do you want?" Rick finally managed to blurt out.
"I AM HERE TO DELIVER A MESSAGE OF WOE TO THE PEOPLE OF THIS WORLD,"
The thunderous voice emanated from somewhere deep inside the Eagle's
throat. The beak did not move when he spoke. "AND I AM HERE TO ANNOUNCE
THE TRIAL BY FIRE TO THE SON OF DUST BEFORE ME KNOWN AS DAVID JACOB
Rick wanted to drop to his knees. The voice gave him the cold, hollow
feeling that he was not as real as the Eagle, that he was a partial
apparition. He trembled like one of the Old Testament prophets who just
heard a terrifying angelic voice and feared he might die. Rick looked
down at Davy-Jake. He had wrapped his arms around his head and his body
shook with loud, uneven sobs.
"I know who he is... I know what he wants."
Davy-Jake's voice broke from the sobbing.
Rick always secretly admired Davy-Jake despite
their numerous and often severe conflicts that began when DJ started
dating Lydia. During the fifteen years he had known him, DJ calmly and
often humorously handled every stressful situation that came up. Rick
had to admit DJ used a guile he didn't have when dealing with
anti-Christian bullies or rallying the basketball team when they were
down thirty points. Just like the rest of the universe, men once solid
as mountains were crumbling to pieces. Even though Dan had tried to warn
him Davy-Jake might become emotionally unstable, it shocked Rick to
actually see the breakdown. Now he believed it really was the end of the
"How do you know him? Why does he want you?"
"I heard him call my name in the thunder...when Debra talked to us that
last Sunday at the lighthouse... Just leave me here and get Roscoe and the
other kids into a tunnel!"
"I'm sorry, Davy-Jake; forgive me for hitting
you." Rick backed away, stooping under the weight of the Eagle's gaze.
"Vaya con dios." Davy-Jake forced a
little more control into his voice.
Rick got Roscoe out of the bed of the dump truck to help him unload the
motorcycle. After they climbed into the cab, he showed the boy how to
use a stun gun on the neogene prisoner. He started the truck but had
trouble working the clutch. The big truck moved haltingly across the
bridge as Rick ground the gears. The Eagle spread his wings and lifted
off to allow them to pass. The thunderbird soared off towards the
Mississippi River. Roscoe stuck his head out the passenger window,
calling out as they passed Davy-Jake but he didn't answer. The boy sat
back on the passenger seat with crossed arms, too infuriated with Rick
to speak to him.
Rick drove on and got better working the clutch. Obsessively he kept
checking the froth-covered prisoner behind the seat. Exhaustion soon
overcame Roscoe and he fell asleep. Somewhere inside Rick his
self-satisfied celebration at finding the children alive inexorably gave
way to horror at what was happening to his sister. Despite feeble
efforts to focus on driving, he vividly pictured Lydia being raped and
tortured by dozens of gruesome, cackling monsters. DJ was right; nothing
they did was going to work. Something like a dam broke inside Rick. He
wept out loud for the first time since first grade, when Bad Henry had
jammed the pointed end of the little U.N. flag pole into his mouth.
Twice Rick crashed the dump truck through road barricades but that just
seemed extraneous. He couldn't even remember the details of exactly
where and how many men tried to stop them. They made it to Cedar Lake
inside the Shawnee Forest and he called in with his two-way radio. The
ancient Special Forces commander of the area sent an old HUM-VEE full of
white-haired soldiers to escort them into the tunnel complex. Rick
couldn't remember anything but loudly weeping for his sister and
brother-in-law Davy-Jake, and for the father that had abandoned him.
* * *
The Eagle flew back and landed on the bridge. A huge buffalo fish looked
like a sardine protruding from the great hooked beak. The gigantic
raptorial bird gulped down the fish and commenced to preening his
feathers again. On the side of the narrow paved road full of potholes,
Davy-Jake struggled to his feet and stood before the Eagle.
"THE FISH IN THIS RIVER WERE MUCH LARGER WHEN
LAST I WAS HERE."
"You're right. We've done a pitiful job
protecting God's creation." Davy-Jake barely managed to speak at first.
"YOU KNOW WHO I AM."
"Yes, I sure do. A story about you was passed
down to me from almost 270 years ago. One of my ancestors was a Shawnee
brave who talked to you on a cliff overlooking the Wabash River. His
captive white wife convinced him to come to Christ and he changed his
name to Joshua. For that crime and for talking to you he was burned at
the stake by Tecumseh's evil brother Tenskwatawa, the Prophet. I was
told you gave my ancestor knowledge that helped our family prosper and
become warriors of renown, and that you would return to test one of my
family at the end of days."
"YES, I SPOKE TO YOUR ANCESTOR. HE REJOICED AT HIS TRIAL BY FIRE. THE
PROPER TIME HAS NOW ARRIVED FOR YOUR TRIAL BY FIRE AND IT WILL BE YOUR
"I thank you for protecting my brother and the other children. I want to
ask your help before my trial begins. I understand that you battle the
Great Serpent in the Spirit World to protect us from evil in this part
of the earth."
"THERE ARE MANY BATTLES IN MANY KINGDOMS AND
PRICIPALITIES THAT YOU CANNOT PERCEIVE. I PROTECTED THIS SPECIAL NATION
UNTIL THE CREATOR WHO KNOWS NO BEGINGING AND NO END REMOVED THE
RESTRAINING POWERS ON THE GREAT SERPENT. HIS TIME ON EARTH HAS NOW COME."
"Yes, I know evil days are here. I am speaking
to you on the saddest day of my life. Last night my mother was murdered
and my beautiful wife carried off by a horde of demons. Before my trial
begins I want to plead with you to rescue her from the demons. I will
gladly face any fire when she is safe."
"I ONCE HAD A MATE." The Eagle gazed off into the eastern
horizon. "MANY AGES AGO I WAS CALLED TO PROTECT THIS NATION AND SHE WAS
LOST TO ME."
"I am sorry to hear that. I truly am sorry. It's just that I'm at the
end of my rope. I'm all used up. I want to help protect God's people but
I don't believe I'll be able to do any good for anybody if I lose her
The Eagle seemed to ignore Davy-Jake's
pleading. He went back to preening himself for the next hour. When the
sun rose to its full height the Eagle ceased grooming. His intense
golden gaze focused on Davy-Jake like a magnifying glass concentrates
sunlight on a helpless bug.
"YOUR REFLECTION OF THE SACROSANCT SHINING
SPIRIT OF THE CREATOR IS WEAK. ASK FOR STREGNTH, FOR PEACE AT WHAT MUST
BE. DO NOT FEED YOUR WEAKNESS."
"You're right, I am weak. My reflection of the Holy Sprit is weak, I
"IF I BRING HER TO YOU HER SUFFERING WILL BE EXTENDED, NOT ENDED."
"Then I withdraw my request. If that's true
then I want no part of making her suffer more."
"THE SHINING SACROSANCT SPIRIT OF THE CREATOR HAS SPOKEN. I WILL BRING
HER TO YOU. THIS TRIAL BY FIRE WILL COMMENCE!" With that the Eagle
spread his enormous wings and lifted off.
Davy-Jake collapsed. Face down on the hot
pavement he prayed for hours, until the burning sun began sinking into
the west. After offering himself and everything that a man could think
to offer, he wrestled with the Spirit of the living God. Sun burnt,
dazed, rebuked, and defeated; he finally rose to his feet. He stumbled
back down the road until he found the motorcycle. Through the late
afternoon heat waves and haze he rode until the machine broke down and
he was forced to walk fifteen miles to get to a tunnel entrance.
X. Battle Hymn
When night fell they dragged the nineteen zoo
cages out into the middle of the Aztec Soccer Stadium. Inside each
box-car-sized cage over one hundred prisoners, all women and children,
were packed like livestock. The stench of sewage and vomit gagged the
back of Lydia's throat as she came to. No one had been given food or
water or allowed to use restroom facilities since their capture. At
least she hadn't been raped; covering herself with the residual curry
powder had worked.
Lydia was groggy from her concussion but with the help of Maria Elena
stood up. Desperate pleading and mournful cries of anguish from nearly
two thousand women and children filled the humid night air. She looked
around at the glowing eyes of hundreds of transgenics guarding the dark
field around them. The menacing presence of the monsters paled to the
horrific realization that tens of thousands of human spectators crowded
the stands. Everyone in the world with any power stood against them.
They were helpless.
Multicolored spotlights came on from the
looming, flat-topped pyramid at the south end of the field and a droning
musical beat blasted up from the ground. Daht daht
daht daht da-da-da, daht daht daht daht da-da-da! The theme music
repeated over and over as a rotund, bald clown-man with big orange
sideburns lewdly danced around the stage on the top of the Aztec-styled
pyramid. Simultaneously a one-hundred-foot-tall, 3-D projection of the
scary clown-man danced around on the field between the cages full of
horror-struck woman and children.
"Live from Aztec Stadium, home of the Aztecs, it's the Sacred Scary
Clown Show! Here's your sacred scary host, Deeeean Browner!" The
announcer's voice rolled smoothly up out of the ground.
"Hot as Lightning! More than three billion
viewers have logged in!" The scary clown-man's familiar voice erupted
out of the ground as he kept at his lewd gyrations.
Lydia never heard of the singer Elvis Presley,
but a handful of very ancient viewers now recalled when that obese
singer had mocked his adoring fans during his last concert tour nearly
one hundred years ago. It reminded Lydia of an old television news
program about late-twentieth-century drug addicts that Dan had showed to
the older kids one Sunday after church. She vividly remembered a young
prostitute who looked old, a "crack" addict, mockingly flaunting her
emaciated body to male passersby even though she was covered with open
sores. This repulsive clown-man was mocking his audience too and they
seemed to relish the mockery.
"Veronica is dead." Yolanda's numb voice somehow penetrated the din
rising up from beneath their feet. "They made us watch as they abused
her for hours and then they devoured her while she was still alive. Her
beauty cursed her. We are doomed and there is no God of love."
Maria Elena reached out and embraced Yolanda. "I'm sorry I brought you
to this living nightmare. It's all my fault."
* * *
The theme music stopped. The giant projection of the scary clown-man
walked around the field and stood over each cage, the hideous face
leering down at each one in turn. The stadium audience cheered each time
the captives inside screamed. Although he never watched netcast
entertainment, let alone worked in show business, for many years now
Dean Browner had practiced this act on helpless orphans around the
world. He perfected his malevolent clown character to terrify children
into submission and now he was making it work on adult women too. When
the last cage full of captives stopped screaming, the giant projection
vanished. Everyone's attention turned to the eleven stories tall,
high-definition screen on the front side of the pyramid.
"Welcome world, welcome! Look at these pathetic creatures. Finally
social justice is coming to these murderers, these sanctimonious
hypocrites that used to strut around acting like they're better than you
and me. These phony moral tyrants attacked the self-esteem, the
personhood of each one of us for too long. Yeah! Yeah! That's right!
Tonight you're going to see what no live netcast has ever shown before.
Yeah! And after we're finished here we're going on the road! We'll do it
in Chicago! Minneapolis! Toronto! Montreal! Boston! New York! London!
Paris! Berlin! Stockholm! Rome! Madrid! Lisbon! Yiieeeeeeeeeaaah!" When
the scary clown-man finished screeching the entire stadium roared its
approval. The cheering, shrieking, and applause went on for ten minutes.
Presently a spotlight shined down on a part of the stage that had been
dark. A family of four: father, mother, and two boys were shackled in a
pillory. The scary clown-man held his bulbous red nose as he walked up
to them. Both the mother and father slowly looked around dazed and
nauseous while the dark eyes of the eldest boy froze in a
terror-stricken gaze and the younger boy kept his eyes shut.
"Someone had an accident! Whew, do they smell!"
the scary clown-man said in a funny pinched nasal voice. Still holding
his nose, he stood waving his other hand in front of his face, waiting
for the laughter to trail off and then put his hands down. "By now
you've all seen the messages the Zionist hackers illegally sent through
the net. They claim that 'Israel lives.' Hah! How dare those filthy
creatures use our internet to lie, pathetically trying to embarrass our
divine leader. They are a slimy plague on the world, and right here are
four of them!"
The stadium erupted in hisses and boos. Lydia
prayed for the family as the scary clown-man slowly circled around them.
"Until our divine leader returns; and it won't be long!" He had to wait
for the cheering to die down again. "Until he returns, on our show, you
the audience, the victims of their oppression, will be the judge! The
charges are espionage, building an Apartheid wall of exclusion, genocide
against any other ethnicity that dared oppose them, fomenting
intolerance and murder of transgenic persons, treason, brigandage, and
last but not least sabotage of our infrastructure that left us powerless
for eighteen days. You name the crime, these vermin have committed it!
What is your verdict?"
"Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!" the stadium screamed
"Guilty is the verdict! And now my lovely
assistant Angela will spin the Wheel of Justice. What will the sentence
* * *
A glamorous blonde in a black evening gown stepped out of the shadows to
stand next to the scary clown-man. Her perfectly symmetrical face looked
familiar but Lydia didn't recognize her at first because of her
different hair style and turquoise eye shadow. She walked gracefully to
the wheel, reached up and spun the thing with an almost disguised,
amazingly enraged power. Now Lydia recognized the former high school
teacher, the seducer and kidnapper of her brother Rick. The wheel kept
spinning. The scary clown-man looked impatiently at Angela but he let it
spin until the dial finally stopped on DOUBLE-HEADED AXE.
The crowd hushed as a tall transgenic with a
bull's head and a man's muscular body walked out onto the stage holding
an ornate, double-headed axe. Lydia averted her eyes until the amplified
chopping and screaming ceased. When she looked up again Dean Browner was
shuddering with pleasure. The theme music blasted out and the fat,
neogenic clown-man cart-wheeled across the stage. He halted upside down
in a handstand in front of the pillory. Somehow he kept his legs
straight up in the air, brought his face down to the floor and slowly
lapped up blood with his tongue like a cat. The audience exploded in
"Oh Lord, why have you forsaken us?" Lydia whispered. She felt a
trembling hand on her arm and turned around. Cassie, one of her Scary
Clown Club enemies from high school, looked up at her with wet blue
eyes. Behind stood Marsha, another mean S.C.C. girl who had constantly
tormented Debra. Lydia now realized that half the prisoners packed
inside her cage were citizens of Moreau County who were not Christians
and had not been on a barge. Most of the barges must have escaped. They
probably emptied out the rest of Moreau County in order to have enough
victims for this spectacle.
"I don't want to go to hell." Cassie's mouth trembled and she fell to
"Get away from that J-freak!" Marsha grabbed her by the arm to pull her
away but for once in her life Cassie resisted, repeating over and over
"I don't want to go to hell!"
"Let her go, now." Lydia tensed, ready to
plunge headlong into a brawl. Maria Elena and Yolanda turned to glower
at Marsha too. The pretty but jaded-looking girl with pink and purple
streaks in her hair released Cassie but then stood there holding up her
middle finger in an obscene gesture.
"Please tell me what I have to do to not go to hell!" Cassie begged. The
girl desperately grasped Lydia's arm like a drowning child fighting for
"Shut up, Cassie. We're S.C.C. If we tell the
'genics we'll do anything they want, they'll let us go." Marsha held her
middle finger higher.
"No! I know I'm going to die! Lydia,
please tell me what to do."
"Get out of my sight." Lydia clenched her
fists. Marsha backed away with her middle finger still up, turned and
slipped out of the circle of prisoners who had noticed the
"I'm still in command here!" Lydia shouted out. She knelt down to her
knees with Cassie. She looked Cassie in the eyes for a few seconds as
many women and children gathered around. "Everyone pray with me." Soon
Lydia had organized nearly all the prisoners inside the cage into prayer
Meanwhile, Angela in her tight-fitting evening
gown began picking out prisoners one or two at a time from each cage.
She roughly escorted them to the top of the pyramid as Dean Browner
cavorted around and told anti-Christian jokes.
"What do you get when three Christians are in
the kitchen and one of them disappears?" He paused for effect. "Rapture
Stew for two!" The theme music blasted out after each punch line. The
scary clown-man danced around as the audience roared with laughter. When
the next prisoner would arrive on stage, Dean Browner read multiple
charges against her. The accusations included murder, incest,
cannibalism, arson, and hate-crimes against transgenic persons. The
crowd would always scream "Guilty!" Angela would spin the Wheel of
Justice and then the prisoner would be executed or tortured in some
grisly fashion. Wild applause and cheering would erupt from the stands.
The body of the victim, sometimes still alive, was slid down a chute to
the ravenous transgenic monsters lined up for a free meal eleven stories
below. Angela would go down to the next cage and begin the process
Sometimes Dean Browner would offer non-Christians the option of
social-insect transgenic enhancements. Most accepted but a few didn't
and were executed. Those who accepted were immediately placed into a
transmogrification machine that injected massive doses of social-insect
stem-cell DNA into the victims' foreheads, through their skulls and into
their central nervous systems, transforming them into compliant slaves.
"We all know there are service jobs the
multi-realms need done that no one else will do!" The scary clown-man
went into an auctioneer's rapid-fire voice as the neogenic
representatives from the multi-realm corporations bid against each other
for the new slaves.
This went on for hours until Angela got to cage
*17, Lydia's cage. Angela immediately saw the prisoners in this cage
were different. Instead of wide-eyed desperation, wailing, and begging
for mercy, the women and children inside were praying together or softly
singing hymns in small groups. Angela scanned the population until she
noticed the standing teenage girl with sable hair leading a group of
twenty kneeling prisoners near the middle of the cage.
"You, Lydia Machado. You, come to the cage
Lydia ignored the shouted order and continued
leading the prayer group. Angela entered the cage, making her way
towards Lydia. Suddenly, Shelly McKenna, a heavy-set, middle-aged woman
from Sunnyland who had baby sat Rick and Lydia for many years when they
were little, got up and attacked Angela. Within a split-second she fell
back against some other prisoners, electrocuted to death. Her smoldering
body hit the floor and many screams cut through the muggy air. Angela
smiled wickedly and stood there holding the stun gun over her head.
"Don't resist her!" Lydia shouted out. She turned and whispered quickly
to Maria Elena, "I'm still in command. Keep them praying. When the Holy
Spirit tells me what to do I will give the order and you must do what I
say with all of your heart." Lydia turned and made her way through the
crowd. She couldn't help but stare at the electrocuted body of the
gentle woman who had read her to sleep so many times. Tears wanted to
flow but she fought them off. She walked straight and tall up to Angela
with all the defiance she could muster.
"Good girl," Angela said when Lydia stood in front of her. She seized
Lydia by the arm with a powerful grip. Once outside the cage, she threw
the girl face-first to the ground and handcuffed her arms behind her
back. She grabbed a handful of Lydia's hair, yanking her to her feet.
They started walking across the field towards the Pyramid. "Reminds me
of the time I made another Machado crawl to me."
"My brother walked out on you. You were dumped by a teenager. Must make
you feel as hot as dry ice."
"Oh missy, your mouth. I really don't want to
make this offer but I have no choice. When I catch your brother, I
promise you he won't get any deals." Angela paused for a few steps then
began in a new tone. "Someone high up in our organization is very close
to you even though you've never met him. He's now the CEO of the biggest
tower in North America and he's a lot more substantial than that
gun-toting dirt farmer your mother finally married."
Lydia kept walking, taking one step at a time.
She gulped but tried with all her being to ignore what Angela was
saying. Unlike Rick, she never wanted to meet the man who had abandoned
their family. Still, to imagine an actual face-to-face meeting made the
offer more intriguing than she would have thought possible. My real
father is in heaven, she kept saying inside her head.
"We have video that a transgenic named Henry
Moore turned on Wayne Browner and sixty-five other transgenics at that
last church. He slaughtered the sixty-five transgenics to protect the
church and then blew himself and Wayne up. If you give us pertinent
information on the behavior modification techniques the Jews used to get
him to fight for them, I will turn you over to your biological father at
the Mile High Tower. You won't die if you tell me something useful."
"Henry Moore fought to save our church? Praise God. Hallelujah."
"At least tell me the names of the Jews who did
the behavior modification."
"It was only one Jew."
"What's his name?"
"You already know his name and sooner than you think you're going to bow
down to him."
Angela stopped. She turned and looked Lydia in
the eye. It was Lydia's last chance. When Lydia didn't speak Angela gave
a satisfied sneer. She took two handfuls of Lydia's thick black hair and
shook her head savagely until she fell to her knees. "That's not too
likely, is it, girly?" She kept shaking Lydia's head by the hair until
she fell backwards. Angela dragged her upright to her feet and they
started walking again. "No, I won't bruise or tear your lovely skin. You
have a rare butterscotch complexion that'll make a great addition to my
lampshade collection. What I am going to do is microwave your insides.
There is no more excruciating way to die, I promise you. It'll take
about three or four hours. You'll flop around like a fish out of water
for most of that time and it'll be great entertainment for our billions
Lydia stumbled forward, head hung down, all defiance gone. Blood seeped
from her scalp and trickled down her forehead. She didn't care anything
about prophecy even though her pastor preached almost one-fourth of the
Bible was prophetic. For the last two months all the Christian men she
knew debated with fascinated passion how the prophecies were being
fulfilled before their eyes but it never interested her. Only people
interested her. She was no hero. Why did she tell Maria Elena that
nonsense about still being in command? Just a seventeen-year-old girl,
I'm just a girl. I didn't want to hurt anybody.
Lydia tried to forgive all the people and
monsters about to kill her. It came to her that they were like the
baboons the teacher talked about in second-year biology class. They
torture us because, like a baboon attacking another baboon of lesser
rank for no or little reason, it reduces their stress. And now there was
so much stress, there was stress avalanching on top of everyone beyond a
battle-hardened soldier's endurance. They torture women and children
because they show more terror so they get more original-sin bang for
their buck. This generation most men and women in the world were
indoctrinated by the public schools to avoid becoming parents, so there
was no empathy for little children. It all made sense. Was understanding
their behavior forgiveness? At least she couldn't blame them anymore.
Where is the God of love? No angels visiting her before the martyr's
execution. She knew she was not a saint and didn't deserve angelic
comforting. Her premarital fooling around with Davy-Jake, her constant
fighting at school with the anti-Christian kids, the escalating
conflicts with her brother Rick, she knew they had made her mother
The loneliness of her life's defeats dragged
her down to the dirt but at that instant hit the worst revelation of
all: inside her a human life was growing; she was pregnant. Somehow she
knew she was pregnant. She tried to stop walking, to drag her feet, but
they were already standing in front of the big elevator door decorated
with a macabre frieze of an Aztec sacrifice. She stared at the temple
priest cutting out the heart of a screaming victim. The doors opened and
Angela shoved her forward into the belly of the pyramid.
Inside, two fashionably dressed girls descended
on her with a make-up kit. A half man, half Komodo dragon standing at
the control panel pressed the up button with a clawed, scaly finger and
the elevator lurched upward. At first Lydia couldn't believe it. Was the
whole thing some kind of sick joke? Were they applying makeup for phony
executions done with special effects? The elevator slid up too quickly.
The Chinese girl brushed Lydia's hair with great skill without pulling
too much on her tender scalp while the white girl applied cosmetics to
"Look at her facial bone structure. The video cameras are going to love
this Sheila's face," the white girl said.
"I'd kill for her hair." The Chinese girl also
spoke with an Australian accent.
The white girl paused to take out tweezers from the make-up kit. She
rapidly removed bits of glass from Lydia's left cheek then resumed
applying the cosmetics. "You must have been a naughty girl so someone
took you by the hair and threw you through a window." She cocked her
head and winked at Angela.
"I believe it's our Angela who's the naughty
one," the Chinese-Australian girl quipped. She finished brushing and
"There now, deary, you're ready for the world."
The white girl gave a big smile as she looked Lydia over.
"I believe I'm going to take a break and go get
in the queue for this one." The Komodo dragon-man flicked his forked
tongue out at Lydia. The two make-up girls snickered. "You're rather
spicy, aren't you? Just the way I like them. See you for dinner, luv."
The elevator doors opened and "Daht daht daht daht da-da-da!" roared
out. Dean Browner finished his dance with a standing back flip but when
he came down on a puddle of blood his feet slipped out from under him
and he fell hard on his rump. He got up rubbing his wide backside and
the audience let loose with sympathetic applause.
Angela shoved her out onto the stage filled
with sickening, multicolored lights. Dean Browner casually turned to
face his next victim but when he saw Lydia his face twisted into a
hideous grimace. He slowly raised his right hand to point a
blood-soaked, gloved finger at her. The sixty thousand spectators grew
quiet. Dean's fat face continued contorting into a visage of hate no
regular human being could ever produce. The white grease paint began to
ooze off his double chin from the friction of his facial contortions.
"This is one of the murderers of my adopted son. My only son. She is one
of the Christians who attacked him when he returned to Moreau County to
protest their treatment of transgenic persons. She's one of the
Christian vigilantes that murdered my son Wayne and three hundred other
peaceful, innocent, transgenic children at that accursed church. It was
the biggest anti-transgenic hate crime in history until last night!"
Lydia stood there blinking from the spotlights.
Did Dean Browner really have some familial love for Wayne or was this
just part of the act? He claimed three hundred transgenics were killed
at their church, but last week on the radio interview he had claimed two
hundred. She wanted to argue it was even less than that, only sixty-six,
and that she hadn't even been there when it happened. She wanted to beg
for her life and for the life of her unborn child, wanted to scream that
executions and torture were illegal under United Nations law written by
Sebastiao. Finally Lydia swallowed her own futile words, closed her eyes
The grimacing clown-man walked up to her. The
entire stadium hushed to silence. Angela, standing behind her clutching
the back of her neck, poked hard into her ribs with the stun gun.
"Open your eyes," she hissed.
"Tell us why you're a self-righteous murderer. I want you to tell the
world why you think you're forgiven after you've helped destroy the
lives of thousands of unique persons you're not good enough to be a
slave for!" Dean's face roiled like hundreds of maggots squirmed under
his skin. He halted less than six inches from her face.
Lydia was puzzled as she opened her eyes. Dean
had not offered to let any other victim speak tonight, but somehow she
knew she would get to talk. The bright spotlights behind Dean's ghastly
face were no longer blinding. In the corner of her eye she saw another
figure standing on stage. The stranger was a tall, very handsome young
man with startling eyes that shined like blue stars. He had a strong
chin, mid-length golden hair, was about her age and wore a blue uniform.
Somehow she knew no one else could see him. She turned her head slightly
to see him better and the angel with the face too handsome for this
world smiled a smile of pure light that cascaded into a warm blanket
overpowering the gaudy spotlights. It enveloped her in comfort and
safety and she no longer was afraid for herself or for any of the other
Angela prodded her ribs again. "Talk, now."
Lydia gave a beautiful smile seen by almost five billion people. She
began speaking words that came from somewhere else and Dean Browner
stumbled backwards as if he had been punched in the face.
"The Spirit of the Lord says: This age of
lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan and the unclean spirits who are
his offspring." Lydia's voice came up loud and clear from the under the
spectators' seats. Immediately catcalls and boos surged out from the
crowd but her amplified voice overwhelmed them and her radiant smile
hushed many of them. "Our God is a consuming fire and all who reject His
redemption will be consumed!
"Tonight both heaven and earth will be shaken. Only he who embraces
righteousness and love will not be thrown into the fiery furnace. You
who harm these little children, it would have been better for you to not
have been born.
"Sisters and children in Christ!" she shouted
out in English and then Spanish. "We must all sing together. Do not be
afraid of them! We will sing into their faces. Before dawn rises we will
all be together in paradise!
"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored,
He has loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword
His truth is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!" At this point Angela shot her in the back
with the microwave setting of her stun gun. Lydia gagged with the
burning pain and dropped to her knees.
Angela glared at Dean Browner and mouthed out
"@**! spinning the @**! wheel."
* * *
"She has lost her mind." Maria Elena's despondent voice broke the sudden
"No, we have to do what she says!" Her eyes streaming with tears, Cassie
pressed her face against the bars of the cage. "Glory! Glory!
Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!"
"It is no good!" Yolanda screamed out in broken
English. "It is useless!"
A woman holding her dying three-year-old
grandson started singing along and then some mothers and their small
children joined in. Maria Elena broke down and joined in. The last to
join the chorus was Yolanda and then the entire population of cage *17
except one holdout was singing "Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!"
The prisoners in cage *14, then cage *12 joined the chorus.
Simultaneously almost all the rest of the prisoners in the other cages
joined in. Their amplified voices drowned out the booing from the tens
of thousands of spectators. Suddenly afraid, the transgenic monsters
guarding the field began backing away from the cages.
* * *
On stage the scary clown-man looked indecisive. He tried to order the
amplification from the cages turned off but none of the stage crew knew
how to do it.
Lydia was on her knees and couldn't sing but managed to smile up at the
video cameras as the overwhelming voices from the cages sang out "Glory!
Glory! Hallelujah!" Their voices grew stronger and stronger.
"This is a fiasco!" Angela shouted at Dean.
"You've got to stop this now, right now. This is a live netcast. Half
the people in the world are viewing."
"No! You go down there and punish them. This is
my show!" The clown-man wrung his hands, his eyes darting around as if
he expected something invisible would strike him again.
"They're making us look like fools! She's
infected them with a martyr's complex. They're Christians singing as
they're being thrown to the lions. The throwbacks and teratos are both
superstitious about death. This defiance is going to undermine their
supernatural fear of us. You have to end this now."
Dean reluctantly went to the studio engineer
booth to retrieve his satellite phone. He gave his special code to the
G.O.G. Satellite Weapons Command Center and the precise target
information. The scary clown-man pulled himself together then walked
back onstage with both arms stretched high in the air.
"In the sacred name of Sebastiao, I command the
fire from the sky to rain down on these Christian criminals, these
enemies of social progress!" The coordination with the Satellite Weapons
Command Center was off and he had to recite his mumbo jumbo three more
times before the particle beams, like straightened-out lightning,
screeched down from satellites in outer space and finally hit the cages.
As the rancid smoke cleared from the field and the burnt air reeked of
ozone, three unrecognizable teenage girls rose up from the blasted
corpses in what had been cage *17. "Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!" the three
sang out together again.
The clown-man took off his gore-drenched, formerly white gloves and
looked at his chubby hands. "Useless, useless," he mumbled out loud. He
had been planning this first sacrificial event for so long. This had
been his best chance to gain the publicity he needed to impress
Sebastiao. Out of the ambitiously ruthless thousands vying for the title
of Most High Priest of the Global Religion of Peace, he was the first to
netcast live sacrifices. Time was short and now this interference. He
loathed the source of it with all his being. They were losing ratings,
he could feel it. His hands closed to become fat fists. He shook in rage
as the three teenage girls who should have been dead kept singing. "Go
down there and shut them up," he ordered Angela.
* * *
"Turn it off." Davy-Jake stood up behind Sara and dozens of other
refugees and soldiers seated in a circle around the netcast center. The
holographic projector inside what looked like a huge crystal ball
simulated detailed 3-D images. "I said turn it off."
The leather-faced soldier at the control panel
didn't look up. "Any relatives and whoever else can't take it leave. We
need to record what's happening."
Davy-Jake strode up to the netcast center and in one motion unsheathed
his Bowie knife, stabbed through the glass, piercing into the
holographic projector. The images warped among sparks and disappeared.
Four soldiers leaped up to tackle him. He put up a ferocious struggle,
punching and kicking several to the ground, but eventually nine more
guards ran inside the chamber and swarmed on top of him.
Sara's tears became sobs as she watched her son-in-law subdued.
"I'm on fire!" Davy-Jake screamed.
* * *
Rick paced outside, far up the path from the camouflaged tunnel
entrance. Another tremor moved the ground beneath him as he speed-dialed
Jill for the twentieth time. Once again the call didn't go through. Just
this afternoon she had been approved for a transfer to the Shawnee
Forest tunnel complex. Seven hours ago she and five other medical aide
workers began the dangerous journey through the tunnel that ran under
the Mississippi River from the Ozark complex. She should have arrived by
The muggy night pressed down on him with its
inky blackness. No lights out here amongst the fragrant pines and cedar
trees. He looked up at the stars. In a netcast earlier this evening, an
astronomer, who looked ready to faint, reported strange gravitational
forces were causing the seas to surge with tides never seen before. The
stars and other heavenly bodies were, in minute increments, accelerating
away from each other and it appeared that some galaxies on the far edge
of the universe had sped off into a blurry smear and vanished.
Animals scurried in the black forest around
him. Raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, foxes, opossums, snakes,
skunks, woodchucks, and wild turkeys moved unnaturally together in large
groups as if desperate to find safe shelter. Amid the tumult of small
feet in the underbrush, a large branch snapped. Rick crouched down to
pick up his shotgun. He switched on the powerful flashlight attached
under the barrel and stood up scanning the path and underbrush.
"It's me, Rooster."
Somehow the intruder had gotten behind him.
Rick knew the voice but was so edgy he whirled around aiming the
flashlight beam and shotgun at Dan.
"Easy, Rick. It's me. What are you doing out
here in the dark, son?" Dan's stooped posture and exhausted voice made
him seem like an old man. He held a hand in front of his eyes to block
the strong flashlight beam.
"I'm trying to call someone." Rick pointed the
weapon down at the ground and switched off the flashlight.
"Your gal?" Dan waited for Rick to walk down
the dark path to him.
"Yeah, she got her transfer. She was supposed to cross under the river
and be here by now. I'm worried an earthquake might have collapsed that
"You're supposed to be monitoring the netcasts
for information on the barge prisoners." Dan and Rick started walking
together down the path to the cave entrance.
"I know. I couldn't take just sitting down any more; I had to try to get
through to Jill. There are plenty of people in there watching it. Dean
Browner and Angela are on. They're torturing and murdering women and
children for the whole world's enjoyment. They haven't showed Lydia yet.
Did you have luck finding any more survivors?"
"We opened up on hundreds of the stubborn ghouls as they were feeding on
the corpses on Q-4 barge. They'll eat a human or a transgenic, they
don't care which. We finally got inside the pilothouse and found Noah's
boy and that Mexican girl Roscoe said your sister hid in the lockers.
Zeke had been shot and lost a lot of blood. I don't know if he's going
to make it. The girl should be all right."
"Rick! Rick!" A girl's voice screamed his name
out of the blackness with shrill agony that made Rick's skin crawl.
"Where are you?"
Rick and Dan ran down the path. The girl,
Tyler's sixteen-year-old former girlfriend Nasarine Ishmael, had been
orphaned the previous night. Her father had been the pilot and her
mother a crew member on Lydia's barge. She sat down on the path and
couldn't say anything more, just covered her face and wept. Rick left
her with Dan and ran on into the tunnel.
When he got into the netcast viewing chamber he
found his mother staring at the busted out holographic projector with
tear-filled eyes. She looked like an animal about to be run over. An
eerie keening noise rose from someone splayed across the floor. Rick
couldn't see who it was because a mob of guards was holding him down.
"That woman did something to Lydia." Sara noticed Rick standing there.
"That teacher did something to her. I don't know what it was but she
Dan came into the chamber with his arm around Nasarine.
"Where have you been?" Sara shouted at Dan.
"Why didn't you negotiate the prisoner exchange?"
"The neogene's commander is being tortured for
failure by his own interrogation team. There was no one to negotiate
with so we gave our neogene prisoner to the Israelis. He's on a small
jet over the Atlantic by now."
"You care more about them than you do your own
people. What about us? Why didn't you save my daughter?" Sara's eyes
squinted from deer-in-the headlights to furious blue pinpoints aimed at
"Sara, this is war. We did everything that
could be done. It must be God's will."
"'God's will'? What kind of 'God's will' gives me back my son then takes
away my daughter? What kind of cosmic sadist is He?"
The men restraining Davy-Jake slowly got up.
The young man's keening reduced to a low moaning as a strong sedative
took effect. He lay there in a straight jacket, rolling his eyes and
bobbing his head as if to an angry music no one else could hear.
Sara pointed to Davy-Jake. "Look what He's done
to this boy."
"Lydia is a hero, Mom. She saved twenty kids from that barge. Her life
was a victory." Rick felt a strange sense of being out of synch, of
already being past the first stages of mourning for his sister. He knew
it was too soon.
"Victory? You're delusional. As we speak your
sister is being tortured to death for the amusement of billions of sick
goons. We're hiding out in caves. We're cowering in holes like rats
waiting to be exterminated. There is no victory in any of this."
"We've witnessed the rapture, Sara. God's
promises are coming alive right before our eyes." Dan's voice, normally
strong and reassuring, wavered.
"Don't talk to me about God's promises! He's weak. He took His
favorites, His perfect pets, and abandoned the rest of us. I'm tired of
a weak God and I'm tired of weak men. You lost the country and now
you've lost my daughter."
"What else could I have done?" Dan's voice
echoed back from the rounded walls of the chamber. He released Nasarine
and clutched one of the orange plastic chairs as if to rip the back off.
The guards were bringing Davy-Jake to his feet. Everybody else had
backed away from the family and were starting to leave the chamber.
"You should have used nuclear bombs on those
blue cities thirty-three years ago. None of this would have happened if
"Nuke our own cities, Sara?"
"Listen, Mom, I love you and I love Lydia. I hate what's happening to
her; I wish I could take her place. But we're not the only ones
suffering. What's going on is bigger than our family. I never told you
what really happened to me when I was Angela's prisoner. She put me in a
pit of living death so far down and black no light could ever escape. I
even forgot your face and everyone else's face I loved. All I could
think about and feel were waves of hunger. None of you could help me.
But Jesus Christ lifted me up out of that pit and I am never going to
turn my back on Him no matter what anyone does to me or to you or to
"Well said, M."
The girl's voice was right behind him. Rick
slowly turned around and feasted his eyes on Jill's face. Her green eyes
were full of beauty and strength, her mouth a line of loving admiration.
She had grown up so far past the mixed-up gamer-girl in a short skirt
who had inadvertently rescued him almost two months ago. Her presence
gave off the assurance of one who has learned fast the best human
occupation, the art of taking care of other, weaker human beings. He put
down the shotgun and reached out his hands. She took them and then they
embraced, Jill pressing the side of her head down onto his chest as he
stroked her now shoulder-length black hair.
At this happiest moment of his life, his mother's voice scolded out
behind him. "Don't love anyone, Rick. Don't be a fool." Her words fell
onto his fast beating heart like drops of sulfuric acid. A split-second
later the most powerful earthquake in the history of planet Earth hit
and everyone was thrown to the ground.
* * *
When Angela returned to the top of the Aztec pyramid, Dean Browner
pointed at Lydia. "Make a spectacle out of her."
Angela pulled out her skinning knife and walked over to the girl. Lydia
was still on her knees in the spotlight. Funny, she should have been
writhing on the floor by now. She was breathing fast, very near to
struggling for air, but still holding the agony inside. Something wasn't
right. Angela checked the setting on her stun gun. Yes, it was set to
microwave. Then she noticed Lydia whispering something.
"Thank you. Thank you." The girl kept repeating
between her desperate gasps.
Angela's experience with eight previous victims taught her there was a
special relationship between the torturer and the tortured, a perverse
intimacy she was beginning to crave. Many times her victims would cling
to her and one called her "momma" before he finally died. This girl was
cheating, going outside the relationship. Maybe there was an entity
beyond the universe whom these Christians worshiped that was helping
her. It would have to be defeated too. Whatever had created this shabby
world couldn't be invincible.
"After about a half an hour of torment there is
going to be nothing left of you but a lampshade in my collection.
Centuries from now I'll be alive, growing more powerful and more
beautiful, and you'll be stuck in a morass of nothingness, oblivion."
"You, a-ha, a-ha, a-ha, are,
a-ha, a-ha, wrong. You, a-ha, a-ha, a-ha, will, a-ha, a-ha, a-ha, be,
a-ha, a-ha, dead, a-ha, before, a-ha, a-ha, a-ha, me."
Angela snickered. She
looked down at the pathetic Christian girl and shook her head. She waved
the shiny blade in front of Lydia's face.
"I, a-ha, a-ha, a-ha, forgive, a-ha, a-ha, you."
"Not if I can help
it." Angela grabbed a handful of Lydia's hair, pulled her head back and
brought the knife down to begin skinning, but then felt an enormous
presence descending out of the black sky. Before she could even look up
her reflexes took over. Faster than any Olympic gold-medal gymnast, she
back flipped away. At the front edge of the pyramid she stood up and
watched the gigantic Eagle land over Lydia. The astounding creature
blasted out a scream that blew out the amplification system for the
entire stadium. With wing beats as strong as a gale, the Eagle slowly
rose off the pyramid with Lydia clutched in one of his taloned feet.
"Send Peacock to get the prisoner back, now!" Angela yelled into her
sleeve. She held her stun gun high over her head and watched the
grotesquely antlered transgenic with an eye patch fly up from the base
of the pyramid after the Eagle. Within seconds the eight-foot-tall,
owl-like piasa bird fell back down onto the stage like a rock, its heart
Angela's mind raced. The Pacific Rim Free Trade Realm must be
responsible for the creation of this giant raptor. Harmony with the
"Divine String of Pearls" indeed. Beijing would pay for this. She looked
around to find Dean Browner.
Dean had run to the back of the stage. A flying
yeti bodyguard stood right behind him. At the instant the catastrophic
mega-earthquake hit, Angela watched the clown-man stretch out his arms
and the flying yeti lifted him off the stage with slow flaps of powerful
Angela didn't have time to curse Dean. She
kicked off her stiletto high heels and leaped out over the front edge of
the pyramid just as it collapsed. As she fell eleven stories the air
pulsated with the screams of sixty thousand people mixed with and
rapidly overwhelmed by the groaning earth. The stadium collapsed before
Angela landed on the fleeing Komodo dragon-man
who was killed instantly. She was damaged, her left leg broken. Despite
having to hobble she was one of the few who made it to the VIP parking
lot. The ground beneath her feet moved like the waves of a stormy Lake
Superior. She managed to find her scarlet convertible and get the door
open. The dust plume from the collapsing buildings engulfed the small
car as she tried to drive away. Angela saw nothing but a few glowing
orbs, headlights and taillights from other cars floating helter skelter
through the lake of dust.
The enormous wave of liquid-like ground hit her
from the side and flipped her convertible into an opening chasm. A new
volcano was being born. Smoke with sulfur and other noxious fumes
billowed out of it. The car landed in the lava and exploded. Three times
Angela clawed her way up out of the burning liquid rock and three times
she was knocked back in. The last time her skin and even her protective
foam had been melted off. Blind, without sense of hearing or sense of
smell, feeling only a universe of burning fire, Angela Starr sank back
into the eruption.
* * *
Kim the freshwater mermaid swam quietly across the pitch-black
Mississippi River. She was dragging the carcass of a man-sized
transgenic through the water behind her, the freshest meat she could
find. The river had been full of bodies this morning but almost all
had been scavenged or were now putrid and bloated.
What was she supposed to do? She was hungry and
too afraid of guns and giant eagles to lure human children into the
river any more. She had to keep her strength up. It was going to be
hard to find another dominant merman and even harder to fight her
way up the pecking order of a new harem. The government needed to do
something about the scanty food supply and lack of health care for
transgenics, and had better clean up this nasty river, too.
Kim kept swimming, hauling the body by a leg,
feeling her way through the dense vegetation into the secluded oxbow
lake that was her lair. Suddenly, without any warning at all, the
entire river began violently sloshing from bank to bank. It took her
by complete surprise when the current sucked her out of her lair and
rushed her backwards upstream.
A tsunami wave hit and carried Kim up over the
west bank. The giant wave knocked over trees and houses, carrying
her and hundreds of tons of debris miles over formerly dry land. The
earth rose south of Saint Louis and the once great Mississippi River
was cut in two, never to flow south again along its ancient course.
After the flood from the mega-earthquake finally receded, Kim was left
hanging from an evergreen tree in a small hillside cemetery many miles
from the old river valley. The invisible demons infesting her central
nervous system fled her broken body. They left her full of
self-revulsion and deep sorrow. Covered with muck, half her bones broken
and struggling to breath, Kim tried to form a word with her mouth, a
word she had not spoken for a long time. But her lungs were full of
brown water and all she could produce was a gurgle. She lost
consciousness hanging upside down from the old arborvitae tree.
* * *
Wolfgang Honecker was strapped down onto a torture table deep inside
the bowels of the windowless G.O.G. building when the
mega-earthquake hit. Jolt the punishment expert had been enjoying
his work for many hours now and Honecker was still screaming.
Neither had noticed the earth tremors but when the monster quake
struck the building shook with enormous violence and abruptly
collapsed. Tons and tons of debris smashed down on Wolfgang and Jolt
and dozens of other neogene G.O.G.
Wolfgang could not move and the pain from tons of debris crushing down
on him made him long for death but death ran away from him like a
healthy pronghorn antelope dashes away from a lame coyote.
Three weeks later a G.O.G. salvage team
searching for portable A.I. devices excavated part of the ruins. Once
they obtained the valuable intelligence information they abandoned the
site without bothering to free Wolfgang and dozens of other neogene
operatives crushed alive in the lower levels under tons and tons of
concrete and steel.
* * *
"What happened on the river?" Sara stood to the side, a little ways
off the path as if she might turn to run away from Dan. Yes, the
dark forest beckoned her. It seemed familiar. The aftershocks had
finally subsided. No major damage in their section of the tunnel
complex and most everyone had already gone back inside out of fear
of the lethal satellites. But she no longer felt afraid of the
satellites or the intimate gloom.
"They attacked all the barges, but concentrated
on the lead barge and the last barge, just like we expected. After
they found resistance was weakest on Q-4, they broke off the attacks
on the other barges. It doesn't make sense militarily; I guess they
were living out Darwin's law, find the weakest to bring down." Dan
paused. Sara could tell he was looking at her like he didn't really
know her. He looked away and continued. "We were ordered not to stop
to help them. When we went past Q-4, I saw Lydia alone on the deck
in front of the pilothouse. I called out for her to jump but she
just waved and climbed down into the hold."
Sara slowly turned away from the darkness to face Dan. She reached out
and he snatched her up in his arms.
"Forgive me for what I said to you in there. I
just am never going to get over not being able to see her again." Sara
thought she was done crying but she started up again as he held her
* * *
Rick stood next to Jill on a rock ledge jutting out over Cedar Lake, far
from the tunnel entrance. For so long he had wanted nothing more than to
have her in front of him to talk to. Now that he had her alone in this
dark forest no words came. She seemed to be in the same state. Finally
Rick laughed and she did too. He took her hand and started to lead her
back down the side path but she resisted. When he turned to her she was
staring up into the pre-dawn sky. The moon was rising above the trees, a
moon no one had ever seen before. The big harvest moon had been
transformed into liquid, a gigantic oceanic disc of blood, gargantuan
waves visible to the naked eye.
"They always said there was a lot of iron on the moon." Rick's voice
held no terror or even apprehension.
"A volcano south of Saint Louis. The Saint Louis Arch collapsed, the
Mississippi River running backwards, and now a moon of blood. Is this
it, Rick; is tonight the end of the world?"
"If it is then I'm happy because I'm with you."
Jill clasped her cool hands across the back of his neck. "That's sort of
corny but I still like it." She stood on tiptoes to kiss him. But before
they kissed Rick saw something enormous fly in front of the blood moon.
"What is it?" Jill turned and saw it too.
They both stared at it for a few seconds then Rick recognized the
silhouette. Running as fast as he could through the hanging branches,
Rick led Jill up the trail.
Dan already had his rifle pointed at the giant
shadow descending out of the sky when Rick ran into the small open area
in front of the tunnel entrance.
"Don't shoot! It's the Eagle!" Rick shouted out
just in time.
Dan hesitated then lowered his rifle. Without
landing, the enormous feathered being gently deposited a girl onto the
ground. The Eagle lifted off, majestically moving the tree branches with
wind from his wing beats. He turned and flew away towards the glow of
dawn painting the eastern sky.
Rick and Sara and Dan ran up to the girl on the ground. Rick recognized
Lydia even before she saw her face. Sara knelt down and with trembling
hands caressed her daughter. Lydia moaned with every touch. Her face was
an expressionless mask, blood from her disintegrating internal organs
swelled under her skin all over her body. Only her eyes looked alive.
"Help me get the handcuffs off! Lydia, can you
hear me? It's me, your mother."
Rick could only watch as Dan removed the
handcuffs and gently put Lydia on her side. He ordered no one but Sara
to touch her.
Sara kept repeating "My queen, my queen," in
"What happened to her?" Rick quietly asked Dan.
"She's been hit with a microwave weapon. The Pacific Rim used them on
our boys on the West Coast at the end of the war. There's nothing anyone
can do for her now but pray."
Rick stood over Lydia. He felt Jill take his arm. Nasarine knelt down
beside his mother. For a second he caught Lydia's eye. He could tell she
recognized him but at the same time was bewildered by the burning agony
inside her. He turned to Jill. "She's my sister Lydia."
"I'm so sorry, Rick."
"I never deserved a sister." Rick watched
helplessly as his mother grew hysterical. She prayed then cursed God
then prayed and cursed some more. Some soldiers brought Davy-Jake out
and laid him down next to Lydia. DJ was still in the straight jacket and
was nearly unconscious.
"She has no pulse, oh God help her she has no pulse!" Sara looked
imploringly at her husband and then Rick and the rest of the people
gathered around. "Why can't somebody do something?"
Lydia's eyes were still alive. She reached up a
shaking hand and held Nasarine's hand. She moved the girl's hand to
Sara. Her mother took the dark-eyed girl's hand. Lydia's arm dropped.
Black blood gushed out from her mouth, nose, ears and eyes. She gave one
last moan and then her eyes were no longer alive.
"Oh God, I sinned. I was the vilest sinner in the world for thirteen
years. My daughter is only seventeen, never even got started. She was
good person. Why didn't you take me? Please, take me! Take me!"
Rick watched his mother break down but at the same time she embraced
Nasarine, both of them weeping and wailing onto each other's shoulders
as the new day began.
XI. Forever Early
Rick finally collapsed onto his cot. He slept for nearly twenty hours.
Right before he awoke, he felt himself floating away from his body.
After a journey in which time has no meaning, he found himself hovering
above a highway paved with gold. There were clouds but no sun or stars
or moon in the royal purple sky. The golden highway ran next to a
mile-wide river of crystal clear water. He had never known water so
clean; huge fish could easily be seen cavorting from the shallows to the
depths. The clouds in the sky, river bank, fish, as well as the
beautiful trees lining the road, the grass, flowers, rocks, and birds
each gave off their own light as if they were filled with stars.
Down the highway was an ugly black mist. Rick
watched a girl with a sad expression walk out of the black mist. He did
not recognize the girl, but at the same time was sure that he knew her.
The girl stopped and gave one quick look back into the mist. She
shivered then turned and walked on up the golden highway.
Rick rooted for the girl to be happy, to forget the ugly black mist from
where she had emerged. Hovering above her, he followed until she stopped
to stare at a pair of tawny animals lying together beside the highway. A
big male cougar lay with his front leg over a spotted fawn. At first
Rick was appalled, wanted the girl to dash away. But she knelt down and
petted both creatures. She sprang up from the friendly animals with an
astonished smile. Joyfully, she dashed up the golden highway. Rick
followed above her, shared in her happiness as she found she could run
up tall hills and rock climb sheer cliffs without tiring.
An angel appeared from nowhere. He looked like
a tall young man in a blue uniform and he escorted the girl to a high
spot overlooking the crystal river. Here were thousands of men, women,
and children standing around a great tree with dazzling fruit something
like giant pecans. At the highest point stood a towering lighthouse made
of alabaster blocks. The lighthouse shined a warning light too powerful
to look at directly, too powerful to ignore.
"Oh Sovereign Lord, holy and true!" the
thousands shouted out together with one voice. "How long will it be
before you judge the people of the earth for what they have done to us?
When will you avenge our blood against those living on the earth?"
A resplendent female being emerged from the
lighthouse. Her face was as bright as lightning and she wore shining
white linen. On her shoulder sat a glowing baby squirrel and behind her
came two angel-like assistants.
"Rest a little longer, until the multitudes of your brothers and
sisters, fellow servants of The Son of Man, have been martyred on earth
and join you here." The resplendent female being and her two angelic
assistants passed out white robes to each man, woman, and child. The
last in line was the girl from the black mist. The resplendent female
being embraced her warmly then handed over a shimmering white robe.
"My faithful sister, the Redeemer of man and
nature has seen fit to give to you a special welcome. For you gave
everything to defeat the wicked nations of the world, therefore all and
much, much more will be given back to you." The resplendent female being
reached out her hand. In her palm a tiny human fetus glowed with life.
"Soon we will return to earth to rule with Him!" The resplendent female
being pointed across the mile-wide river to the constant lightning
flashing across the purple sky.
The girl from the black mist lifted up her arms
in praise as she received her child back into her womb. Suddenly a great
chorus of voices sang out a song of victory and glory. People from all
ethnicities and animals from all epochs, trees and even rocks sang out
with silver voices Rick never heard the likes of.
Suddenly Rick was no longer just a watching
eye. Now he stood before an enormous royal throne inside a city of
shining diamonds and other jewels. Thunderous crashes and lightning
bolts emanated from the man who sat on the throne. He had reddish woolen
hair, skin the color of brass, his eyes platinum lasers that could see
through anything. In front of the throne stood four beings that could
only be aliens of incredible intelligence from another planet. Behind
the throne, an army of angels stood like a mountain range, ready for
"YOU ARE TO BE THE LAST LEADER OF MY PEOPLE,
MY FLOCK, BEFORE MY RETURN. TAKE CARE THAT YOU WATCH OVER MY LITTLE
Rick fell on the ground and worshiped the Son
of Man who sat on the throne. Eventually he blacked out. He woke up in a
cold sweat and rolled out of his cot. In the darkness of his little
chamber deep inside the tunnel complex he stood up dazed, elated,
confused, and burdened. He knelt down to pray.
"Thank you, Lord, that I can still dream."
Epilogue: The Abomination that Causes Desolation
Three days later Rick could barely stay awake after ten hours of
monitoring netcasts deep inside a dimly lit chamber. Circled around the
holographic netcast center with him sat two dozen refugees. Because
these new arrivals had to constantly stay in front of the netcast
center, Rick suspected them of not really being people of faith. Things
were very chaotic on the outside and many people were running anywhere
and saying anything to get into a safe place. They reminded Rick of the
days he had been a homeless wanderer.
Suddenly the 3-D projection of a dour-looking cosmologist giving his
tedious official explanation of the blood moon was cut short. A stunning
view of the Mediterranean Ocean off the coast of Italy replaced him. As
always Rick saw that the number of days since Secretary-General
Sebastiao disappeared was in the corner of the projection. Rick woke up
when he noticed what the number was today.
From beneath roiling white waves a gigantic
scarlet beast emerged from the ocean. Was it five hundred feet long or a
thousand feet long? Rick couldn't tell because it shape-shifted right
before his eyes. Certainly the Abomination was larger than any other
living thing in Earth's history. It stayed mostly in the form of a
centipede; appendages of every kind lined the undulating body. Ten horns
protruded from the largest of the beast's seven cat-skull faces. Upon
close-up Rick saw that the horns were really ten torsos with the heads
of men. One armless head and torso shouted out obscenities and
blasphemies in Mandarin Chinese, at the same time one shouted out
blasphemies in Urdu, one in Spanish, one, the largest, shouted in Hindi,
one shouted out in the Malay-Indonesian language, one in Swahili, one
short one in English, one in Russian, one horn energetically harangued
blasphemies in both French and German right next to the bearded one
spouting out curses in Arabic.
The neogenic Abomination should have weighed
hundreds of tons but it levitated out of the blue Mediterranean as if it
controlled gravity. From under the English-speaking horn another small
horn grew out and replaced it. The head had a seeping bullet wound but
began screaming out profanities and blasphemies in English that drowned
out all the others. Rick thought he had seen enough to never be
horrified again but when he recognized Wayne Browner's face he stood up
and gasped. He watched paralyzed as the Abomination snaked through the
air towards the shore where a crowd waited. Rick now recognized Dean
Browner waiting at the head of the crowd of genuflecting people on the
"What is that thing?" a bedraggled man sitting
next to Rick asked.
"Why doesn't Sebastiao come back and end this?"
a pale woman pleaded and covered her face with her hands.
"That is Sebastiao." The instant Rick said the name the projection of
the Abomination turned and spoke into his mind.
"I HAVE YOUR MOTHER."
Rick reeled backwards as if he had been struck.
Bracing himself against the cave wall he rose back up and witnessed five
of the twenty-plus people in the chamber bowing down to the projection
of the Abomination. The others were all screaming or had fainted. Rick
stumbled out the chamber door and ran. He meant to reach his mother's
chamber as quickly as possible. Around a bend in the tunnel he slammed
into Nasarine and knocked her down.
He helped her up and she put a note into his
hand. He saw in her sleep deprived eyes more confirmation that the
sixteen-year-old girl dwelled in an orphan nightmare she could not wake
up from. Still, she stood with him as he read the note.
By the time you read this I will be gone. Last night I found out from
your uncle Angel that your father is alive. He is a high-ranking neogene
but I don't care. I'm going to him. Dan and the rebel leaders in here
are suppressing the truth about what is really going on. Outside of
America and Israel there is no war. Officials in the new world
government are bringing the dead back to life and performing many other
miracles to help people that are loyal to them. They are the stronger.
Don't believe in the Christian victory; it's a lie. Get out of this hole
and live for yourself. Forget the god of the Jews and Jesus and get what
you want before it is too late!
Rick never felt this desolate before. He
crumpled the note but then stuffed it into his pocket. He saw Nasarine
to her chamber and used her speakerphone to contact Dan.
* * *
"It's my fault. I drove her to this by the way
I acted." Rick took back the crumpled note from Jill.
"What are you going to do?" Jill put her hand
up to his cheek. He took her hand and held it for a long time.
"I want to pray for her. But it has to be
outside. I don't want to pray down here." He started to lead her up a
"What difference does it make to God where you
pray for her?"
"I just want to be outside." Rick stopped to check out a scoped rifle at
a guard station near a portal in the side of a sheer cliff. Rick was now
a captain in the intelligence section and was able to get clearance
Before they walked out onto the narrow limestone ledge he had no idea
what time of day it was. It turned out to be noon, but cold and crisp
like late autumn even though it was mid-July. The soot and dust in the
upper atmosphere from the mega-earthquake blocked out a third of the
sunlight. The dim sun still made him squint. He handed Jill the rifle
and after her eyes adjusted she used the rifle scope to scan the wooded
limestone ridges and columns facing them.
Rick knelt down and closed his eyes. "Heavenly Father, thank you for
showing me that my sister Lydia is reaping her reward in your kingdom.
Lord, I will let the dead bury the dead and follow you no matter who
falls by the wayside. All the same, I beg you not to allow the enemy to
take my mother. I know the hour is late, but in her heart she is still
your child and will come to her senses if she has a chance. Please,
Lord, give me a sign that she is not lost. Amen."
"Rick, there's something big moving through the bushes right below us."
Jill tensed her finger on the rifle trigger as she followed the moving
branches two hundred feet down and less than fifty feet away.
"None of our guys are supposed to be down
there." Rick stood up and drew his .45 caliber pistol. He peered down
into the underbrush. Jill saw the pair first as they moved out into the
"Amazing," Jill said plainly. Rick had long
since ceased to be curious of the variations that the transgenics could
take. Whether walking or flying or crawling or slithering, they were all
obscenities to him. He almost told her to shoot before he saw what they
The whitetail doe followed by the yearling buck stepped out into the
open. Rick couldn't help but give a sad smile.
"I thought they sterilized all the wild deer a long time ago. There
shouldn't be any left." Jill looked at Rick. She questioned him with her
green eyes if this was what he was looking for.
"Praise God, she would have loved to see them." Rick felt lighter.
Almost as if he could step off of this ledge and fly.
* * *
By the time it was winter in the Northern Hemisphere, two and one half
billion people had been killed by starvation, war, prion disease, and by
the wild transgenic beasts that prowled the abandoned cities and
wastelands. Pro and anti-Sebastiao factions began a war in the Southern
Hemisphere using missiles and satellites to burn each others grain crops
and tree farms. A gigantic meteor crashed into the Pacific Ocean ending
shipping and fishing for five months. Finally, a strange comet the
Chinese astronomers named "Bitterness" hit the earth and poisoned
one-third of the fresh water.
Still, most of the thousands of Towers around
the world stayed open and the global economy that depended on them kept
dragging forward. The vast majority of the seven and a half billion
people remaining did not repent of their murders, or sorceries, or
thefts, or sexual perversions, or slanders, or insults to their parents,
or the coveting of their neighbors property; instead their hearts
hardened and they hated the righteous God of the Holy Bible. As the
Abomination traveled the globe methodically replacing every sacred
shrine, temple, mosque, and church with his statue, he grew even more
popular. The people proclaimed him unstoppable and gladly accepted his
At the same time around the world flew the
gigantic Eagle. The Eagle spoke out loudly over the desolate lands so
that every remaining human heard him at least once. "WOE, WOE, WOE TO
THE PEOPLE OF THE EARTH BECAUSE OF THE TERRIBLE JUDGMENTS THAT WILL SOON
RAIN DOWN UPON YOU."
* * *
Spring came reluctantly next year. One early morning in a puddle
near the old Mississippi River bed, the transgenic creature formerly
known as Bad Henry rose up from the muck. The last follower of Jesus
Christ in Moreau County gave a great shout of victory even though
his eyes had not grown back. Even so he could somehow see remotely.
After he fashioned rough clothing out of burlap bags, he hiked up the
bluff to the ruins of the Baptist church. He was very puzzled. What did
God want him to do now? Near some church debris he found a black device
that turned out to be a solar-powered audio New Testament. He sat down
and listened to the voice of Pastor Sterling reading from the Book of
Mathew until the first paragraph of Revelations 11 was finished. He shut
off the device and stood up.
"Yes! I know who I am now!" he shouted out into the twilight. "But who
is the other one? Where will I find the other one like me?"
From the dark trees now walked out an entity
almost too gruesome to describe. It was a windigo, thirteen feet tall,
something like a hairy sasquatch but the yellow-haired head was round
instead of cone-shaped and its gapping mouth could easily swallow a man
whole. All over its black hair-covered body the faces of other windigos
budded out. This was no demon-possessed transgenic wretch but a real
"You know me," it spoke with a snagged voice.
"I've seen you before. In the marsh."
"Our time has come to rule this portion of the Earth. I will consume you
now and you will be reborn as one of my children." It stretched out its
long arms as its young gave off eerie howls.
"No, I know who I am. I am one of the Witnesses!" He stepped back not
sure what to do. He saw no choice but to blow himself up again. So be
it. But when he tried to explode, flames shot out of his mouth like a
blast furnace and burned off the tarantula-like hands about to grab him.
Howling, the windigo dodged away. It tried to get back into the trees
but the Witness was fast too and caught it in the back with an accurate
burst. Black smoke and demonic wails echoed up into the night sky as the
windigo was engulfed in the flames thrown from the Witness's mouth.
"Praise the living God! His Spirit is in me!
All power and glory to Him! He is a consuming fire! Hallelujah!" The
Witness turned around many times in the darkness. Which direction was
Jerusalem? He had no idea. He finally decided to go north. He sang
loudly as walked down the dark road. This was no funeral. This was time
for celebration, like a wedding and the birth of a child put together
and multiplied billions and billions of times. All things made new. The
end of the world was going to be fun.
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