Prelude + First Two Chapters
out of 31 chapters in total
How It All Began
Corporations rejoiced as the last glacier melted. They could finally explore, drill and mine the rich resources that had been trapped under both poles.
Penguins and polar bears became zoo animals as coastal cities shored up their levees against the rising water. Unfortunately, all of the conservative forecasts were wrong.
A series of earthquakes ended the celebrations. No longer compressed under mountains of ice, the tectonic plates under the poles began to rise. The quakes killed hundreds of workers connected to the newly constructed oil rigs and mining operations. Cruise liners were overturned and sprawling communities along the shore were obliterated by gigantic rogue waves. Thousands of tourists, sailors and locals drowned.
As other plates readjusted, a global rash of violent earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions followed. Sky scrapers in New York and Washington were demolished by massive tidal waves. Coastal cities were turned into swamps. World-wide, over a billion destitute people had to be relocated. The scientists that were corporately paid to preach that global warming was natural and something to look forward to, were put on trial and turned into scapegoats.
As two massive plates squeezed the vast Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the displaced water elevated the sea level far beyond anything the scientists could have predicted. Tidal waves rained havoc on the remaining coastal cities. Hurricanes, tornadoes and monsoons, pushed the devastation inland. It took only a few weeks for Holland, Florida and most of Brazil to disappear.
Rivers began flowing backwards, wiping out the towns and cities along them. The massive efforts to save London and Paris were futile. The Mississippi River became a huge inland sea engulfing the rich North American bread basket. The Chinese delta and India’s plains met the same fate. The majority of the earth’s prime farmland was under water.
Desperate armies ferociously fought over the few remaining pockets of fertile land. The constant pounding of artillery and bombs accelerated the shifting plates. Entire chains of volcanoes exploded. The darkened sky turned blood red as the earth’s surface cracked open. The continents began to split apart. Entire naval fleets were swamped and submarines imploded amidst the violent turmoil.
While trying to adjust to the shifting plates, the planet began to wobble. One day the sun would rise over what was once true north, a couple weeks later over what was once north-east or even north-west. The disruption to plant growth was devastating. The magnetic flux created by the shifting poles scrabbled the electrical pulses rendering all electronic devices useless. World-wide, nuclear power stations suffered catastrophic melt-downs spewing clouds of radioactive dust.
Cars, planes, tanks, and ships were reduced to scrap metal. As man reverted back to the barter system, money was used to light fires and gold was cast into bullets.
The planet’s erratic wobbling increased until it flipped end for end. The earth slowly stopped rotating. Then it slowly began to spin in the opposite direction. During the change, month long days and nights wreaked havoc on the remaining plant life. Some mountain ranges crumbled, while others sprung up from the ocean. Hurricane force winds distributed the nuclear and volcanic ash around the globe.
Even the oceans were not spared. Heat from the volcanic activity and the depletion of oxygen caused a vast range of oceanic species to either float to the surface or sink. Their rotting corpses further contaminated the water. Thousands upon thousands of more species were obliterated.
In the frigid darkness of the global nuclear winter, thick sheets of ice began to cover the planet. On the surface, people sought shelter wherever they could. Without heat, most froze to death while embracing their loved ones.
The fortunate managed to find a place underground. They secretly turned mines, tunnels and other underground complexes into large self sustaining shelters. Limited to the capacity that their greenhouses and supplies could sustain, they had to fend off the violent mobs trying to force their way in. To help prevent being breached, they masked the openings and sealed themselves in.
Decades later, on the surface ...
Small bands of scavengers hauled their air-tight shells over the ice searching for food. The thick walls of the lightweight shells were made from multiple layers of hide, fabric and salvaged building insulation. A section of the thick floor was folded inward and tied to the sides to allow them to push the portable shelters from place to place without leaving it. Crammed inside, the inhabitants had to plan and co-ordinate every move they made.
A single breath of raw frigid air could freeze their lungs. They were forced to breath in and out of the tubes attached to their insulated leather hoods. The baffles on the top of the domes helped to preheat the air before it entered the tubes. A metre of the exiting air tube was coiled around the incoming tube and wrapped with insulation. This helped warm the incoming air. The exiting tube then split off into a side pouch. Inside the pouch, the condensation from the escaping air was collected and used as drinking water.
They used every method they had at their disposal to retain as much body heat as possible. Through the multiple layers of clear plastic that protected their eyes, the only faces most of them saw were either frozen or about to be eaten.
Groups of shells fumbled around the icy surface bumping into each other. Limited by the rudimentary periscopes they used, the shells scoured the surface until they found something worth investigating. The shells communicated with one another by whistling through their air lines and chiselling messages and symbolic symbols in the ice.
Once a target was obtained they took turns carving tunnels through the ice and exhumed whatever treasure they found. It didn’t matter if the bodies were days or several decades old. The frozen remains were chiselled apart and suspend next to the air baffles to thaw enough to butcher.
During the freeze, families and large groups tended to huddle together. Churches became sought out targets. Their large frozen congregations allowed rival groups of shells to come together. With plenty of meat to go around, a truce was normally formed. Along with it was a chance to meet, converse and size up their opponents.
The excavated caverns were turned into banquet halls for a rare communal feasts. The thick ice helped insulate them from the cold. As selected members of the different shells sat across from one another, the desire of a much warmer meal sometimes led to group murder. To protect their individual shells, normally only one armed member attended. In smaller shells, a women was usually selected. They were more likely to be impregnated by one of the healthier males, then killed. As a show of strength, in larger shells it was normally a man. During the feast they shared stories, acquired survival technics and enjoyed the warmth of each other’s bodies.
Either by accident or force, shells had occasionally flipped over. In the bitter cold, if they couldn’t get their floor shut fast enough, their occupants could perished within minutes. Their meat, tools, clothes, along with their shell’s components would be harvested by the others.
In lean times, battles between groups of shells became common. Using protruding hooks capable of pulling apart a shell’s exterior wall, opposing groups would separate and harvest their opponent’s weaker shells.
The nuclear and volcanic dust finally began to dissipate. The sun slowly melted the ash covered ice and parts of the planet’s barren surface were exposed. With the remaining corpses rotting as they thawed; Hungry marauding clans were forced to brave the radioactive ash and turn their shells into huts. As they began feeding on their own sick and dying, a new source of meat began to emerge.
Flooding, failing life support systems, and lack of supplies forced people out of mines, tunnels, caves and deteriorating bomb shelters. To the hardened surface dwellers, they were just meat. They had no interest in the knowledge and skills the underground dwellers used to stay alive. Like the capitalists that caused the global catastrophe, the cannibals only sought instant gratification.
The survivors tried to adapt the skills they had honed underground to life on the surface. Born underground and living on a diet of mainly root crops, their smooth skin had a golden hue. The lesion plagued cannibals looked upon their capture as a prized, gilded harvest.
The Gilded Harvest
Gunfire echoed from the valley on the far side of a ridge. The faint blasts of the distant muskets compelled a curious twelve year old to investigate. Dressed in a tunic and pants woven from the same multi coloured thread, Steven worked his way over and around huge piles of rubble as fast as he could. At the bottom of the steep cliff he lifted his head and brushed strains of his wavy brown hair away from his eyes. Biting his lower lip, his eyes went in every direction as he tried to calculate the fastest way up.
With sweat pouring off of him, he remained on all fours until he caught his breath. Crawling to the edge of an outcrop, he peered into the valley. The skirmish was over. The mishmash of colours in Steven’s outfit helped him blend in with the surrounding rocks. His wild hair shielded his eyes and golden face from the sun.
Below him, a long line of captives were being forcibly led toward a cluster of structures made from reclaimed material. The hands of a half dozen of them were lashed to the push bars of three two man carts full of butchered bodies and plunder.
From his vantage point, he could tell that the captives were foreigners. Their woven grey and brown clothes were in striking contrast to the tanned human leather the Townies wore.
A woman began to fall back towards the end of the line. Steven saw her uncover one of her breasts and reposition her crying baby. An enraged guard began to scream as he ran over to her. Steven couldn’t make out what was said.
The guard grabbed the head of the hungry infant with one hand and yanked it away. While holding the distraught mother away with the other arm, he snapped the child’s neck. Barely looking away from the mother, he tossed the small limp body into the rear cart.
After briefly sucking on her bare breast, the guard pushed the screaming mother ahead of him. Her shrieking echoes forced Steven to look away. Beads of sweat formed on his pale forehead. “I should’ve never left the tunnels.” After using his sleeve to wipe his forehead, he mumbled, “Maybe the elders were right.”
The wind picked up and began to drift a line of dark rain clouds towards him. Looking away from the distant red flashes within the dark purple clouds, he gazed at the crumbling remnants of an once vibrant city before his descent. Earthquakes and decades of shifting ice had toppled its shiny skyscrapers. Mounds of concrete, rusted metal, and ground glass had turned the city’s multi-lane roads into narrow diamond shaped pathways that funnelled rainwater towards the inland sea. The other half of the old city was in the water. Along the shore, a string of large mounds defied the pounding surf and acted like a levee.
Steven was drenched by the time he got down from the cliff. All he wanted to do was to get back to the colony before he was missed.
The majority of the city’s underground infrastructure had been sealed off for his clan’s use. With the drains plugged, the torrential downpour turned the cris-crossing pathways into fast flowing streams. A small lake formed in front of the levee. Its only escape was through several small gaps. On the far side of the levee, fountains of water spewed into the agitated sea.
The rain eroded the gravel beneath a large slab of concrete. An thundering lightning strike masked the sound of it sliding down the side of a crumbling mound. The dam it created redirected two gentle streams down one narrow path. The sudden surge caught Steven off guard. Stepping on a smooth, thick piece of glass, he slid backward and landed against the remnants of a rusty vertical girder. Overhead, the girder slammed against a pile of concrete. The impact broke a small piece of reinforcing rod free from it. The heavy rain pushed and rolled it next to the protruding girder.
A sharp twinge ran up Steven’s leg. Looking down he saw that his ankle was twisted sideways. Hanging on the girder he gingerly stood up and tested his injured ankle against the current. He clenched his teeth. As he collapsed to his knees he grabbed the girder with both hands. The jolt shook it enough to caused the small piece of rod to tumble over the edge. It fell and struck the back of Steven’s head.
By the time he had regained consciousness the torrential stream was reduced to a trickle. With blood dribbling down his face, blurred vision and a pounding head, he knew that he was in serious trouble. After tearing the sleeves off his tunic, he used them to bandage the gash on his head. Slipping in and out of consciousness, it took him nearly two days to crawl within earshot of the entrance to his underground colony. The blood covering his body acted like glue and turned the dust falling off the mounds into cracked flakes of plaster. Resting against a slab of concrete, he recalled his short life and how his rebellious six hour excursion was about to end it. Mustering up all the energy he could, he yelled out, “Please take me back.”
A while later, he saw his older brother running toward him. He reached into his pocket. As David knelt beside him Steven handed him a round, flat piece of engraved metal. “Take it back. I won’t need it anymore.”
David looked at it and started to cry. Shaking his head all he could say was, “Why? Why did you have to go?”
Steven had no delusions about his fate as he gazed into the tear filled eyes of his parents as they tried to cover the truth by dusting of his cloths and wiping the grime off his hands and face. With his arms slung over their necks, they cried as they carried their youngest child back to the entrance of their underground complex. David walked several steps behind them squeezing the medallion in his hand.
Behind a wall of loosely piled concrete, the sentries peered through the holes of wire mesh disguised as pieces of rubble. The tips of their muskets resembled pieces of re-bar. The concrete in the large mound they were on was riddled with rusty reenforcement rods.
Stationed on top of the tallest section of the levee, the sentries watched over the flattened city. Behind them, the steep seawall protected their rear. Beneath them, their clan had transformed the remains of a gigantic, heavily fortified bank into a self sustaining underground complex.
Behind the sentries a half dozen colonists used curved polished metal to aim the bright mid-day sunlight at a large suspended crystal. The specially designed crystal shot a concentrated beam of light down a long shaft. Several mirrors redirected the beam into a large cavern. There, it was bounced from mirror to mirror illuminating the area for the solemn ceremony that was about to take place. The introduction of the light also gave the members of the underground colony a rare chance to gaze upon each other’s faces.
Everyone in the colony wore tunics and pants made from recycled multi-coloured material that was woven in darkness. Along with their sandals, everything they wore was tied in place by strands of braided leather.
Living underground in propped up sections that were once the sub-floors of a fortified, high security banking complex, they rarely saw each other’s faces. Instead, they relied on smell, the sound of a person’s voice and the contours of their face and body to identify one another. The simple delight of seeing a spouse or child’s soiled face turned the subdued ceremony into a joyous event.
With his head down, David quietly sat at the end of a long bench trying to ignore his clansmen’s judgmental glances and sly remarks. He looked up as his mother approached. Several people began to mutter as she slightly choked on the morsel of broiled flesh she was chewing. Tears formed on the corners of her dark glassy eyes. As she bowed her head, a clump of her unkept auburn hair fell forward and covered half of her face. His father stood beside her holding a tray of sharp smelling liquid. After dipping his hands in the tray of purifying water, David used the inside of his soiled tunic to wipe them off. Seizing his parents’ shoulders he pulled them closer and whispered, “I promise you, when I die, I’ll make a feast that no one will question or shy from.”
With a forced smile on her face, his mother whispered back, “I truly hope so.” As David released his grip, she took a shivering breath. In a firm voice she spoke loud enough that everyone there could hear, “Now it’s your turn. Honour your brother. Learn from his mistakes and obey the Laws of Life. They had kept this clan alive for this long and will hopefully continue to do so in the future.”
David stared at the specially prepared, elaborate ceremonial plate as two women passed it to his mother. Sitting on four pillars above the pile of thinly sliced meat was a shiny convex metal plate. It not only protected the meat from falling debris, it also reflected any available light onto it. With the rest of the clan watching, David reluctantly stuck out his hand. He knew that if any family member refused to consume a kin’s flesh, it would be deemed unclean. It would be rendered unfit for the rest to eat. He could not allow his brother’s flesh to be degraded and treated like that of a contaminated vagabond.
As his fingers touched the meat, a cloud blocked out most of the sun and darkened the large chamber. Using the dim light to his advantage David selected the smallest piece of meat his nimble fingers could find. Holding the meat next to his chin he sat down and pretended to take a bite. He chewed as loudly before swallowing his saliva.
After hearing him swallow, his mother put on a fake smile and presented the plate to the others as they formed a circle inside the reclaimed old vault. With the sounds of people devouring the plate of flesh, David was relieved that his brother would live on inside of them.
The laws they lived by were simple but David knew that Steven had broken several of them. If his clansmen knew about all of Steven’s excursions, his corpse would have been tested and maybe tossed into the saltpetre pit.
As light flooded back into the chamber, a large thick chested man stood on top of a stack of concrete blocks near the back of the large vault and bellowed out the same funeral sermon his father had recited. The light reflecting off a nearby mirror made the grey strands of Joe’s mostly black matted hair shimmer. Even as the chosen clan leader, his ragged soiled tunic was sewn from the same cloth as everyone else’s. Instead of rewards, his title came with extra burdens. To give someone more, meant everyone else had to suffer. With limited resources, that could weaken the fragile colony and cause it to self-destruction. Being the only person without a set job, Joe helped anyone in need of guidance, advice or muscle. One day he could be helping forge a replacement part for some broken piece of equipment and the next clearing a clogged drainage pipe.
Like the previous clan elder, Joe was born in a large underground mining complex. He was five when he first saw the sun. After the temperatures started to plummet his parents were among the tens of thousands that sought refuge in a deep, massive gold mine. The deeper they went into the mine’s labyrinth of shafts and tunnels, the warmer and more dangerous it was.
The mine was ill equipped to handle the seemingly never-ending line of refugees. The heavily rationed provisions that the ruling government could confiscate lasted only a few months. Mobs of starving refugees raided and consumed the plants sown in the underground gardens before they were ripe enough to gather new seeds.
At the same time, sections of the emergency LED lights were severed to conceal the gruesome cannibalism that took place. At first only the dead were eaten. Then came willing volunteers that could not bare the thought of consuming human flesh themselves but wanted to give others a chance to survive. After that, it became survival of the fittest, eat or be eaten.
When a large earthquake fractured the mining complex, isolated groups began taking different paths. The discoveries and mistakes the clans forefathers made formed the foundation of ‘The Laws of Life’. Modified for life on the surface, the clan still revered them.
David looked at the small strip of meat in his hand. Closing his eyes, he reluctantly placed it in his mouth. Steven was a dreamer. His belief that there was a place where edible plants grew in the sun and strangers were not looked on as meat, was ludicrous. With the taste of Steven’s flesh still on his tongue, David’s mind drifted into his brother’s fantasy world as Joe continued his sermon.
Raising his right arm into the air, Joe looked around the room and proclaimed, “We must all live by the Laws of Life. First, eat only meat and part of plants approved by the sacred beast. Second, reap only plants from soil harboring living fingers. Third, trust no one outside the clan. Fourth, never stray from the clan. Fifth, respect and share your wealth with your fellow clansmen. Sixth, never tread on poisoned earth. Seventh, when a clan grows larger then its resources can withstand, the strongest third must venture out to form their own colony. Our clan is living proof that it is possible.”
A wide grin spread across Joe’s face as he looked around the half lit crowd. “And lastly, honour those that lived a clean life and feast on their flesh so their strength and wisdom can live on within us. Beth and Daniel’s youngest son Steven was deemed clean by his family. The resources he consumed over his short lifetime were not wasted. He shall live on inside us. Remember him as his body strengthens us.”
David loved his brother. A lump developed in his throat as he saw Steven’s remains being dumped into the giant communal cooking pot to extract all of his remaining spirit. He felt like he was being forced to consume his brother's flesh if he wanted to or not. If he refused to eat from it, his brother’s cleanliness would be questioned and his family disgraced.
After Steven was carried back, he barely lived life long enough to beg for forgiveness. All that David had to remember him by was an engraved, shiny medallion. While twirling it on top of a flat slab of concrete, he remembered it falling out of a pocket of an outsider that was being tossed into the saltpetre pits. David had no way of knowing how its embedded images would effect his brother when he gave it to him.
Dawn broke the following morning with a worrisome low lying fog covering the ground. Sitting on top of the mound Mary took off her wide brimmed helmet and sipped on some warm herbal tea. Her wild, dust covered brown hair hardly moved as she walked from one vantage point to another. The eerie quiet made her shiver.
The calm water barely splashed against the rear of the mound. The hunters had used boats to probe the shoreline before. The thick white haze above the water appeared undisturbed. Looking inland, all Mary could make out were the tops of the other mounds and the jagged cliffs that surrounded the levelled city.
Her eyes scanned up and down every known pathway. She froze at the sight of a twirling patch of fog. While putting down her mug she noticed the disturbed fog getting closer. She quietly slid down a narrow trough and ran to Joe’s quarters. Placing her hand over his mouth, she pinched his nose until he woke. When his eyes opened she pointed in the direction of the main entrance. She then left without a word being said.
Wearing only his sleeping shorts, Joe knelt next to her behind a jagged, metre high wall. While scanning the terrain in front of the mound’s obscure entrance, he barely whispered to her, “They could be following Steven’s blood trail.”
She turned to him and whispered back, “We should have sent out a bigger cleaning party.”
Without looking away from the fog, he placed his hand on her shoulder and declared, “We may be in luck. I can only spot three of them. It is probably just a scouting party.”
Beth crawled out of the tunnels and knelt beside them. “Josh and Daniel are loading their guns inside so they won’t be heard.”
Shaking his head, Joe whispered, “In this still air, any gunfire would give the location of the colony away.” Pulling a large, angled khukuri knife from his belt, he added, “We need to go down there and quietly dispose of them.”
Despite his age, Joe could handle a knife better than anyone in the clan. Seeing Beth’s knife drawn, Daniel put down his musket, drew his and got down on his belly. After slithering down the partially hidden trail, they disappeared beneath the thin white haze. As a back-up, Josh and Mary guarded the outside of the entrance with their muskets cocked and flash pans primed with freshly ground gun powder.
From their perch, the armed pair kept track of everyone’s movements by studying the gentle swirls they created in the thick fog. The narrow paths between the rugged mounds made the intruders’ movements predictable.
Along the diagonal path that pointed straight to the entrance, a large swirl caused the fog to dance around in a figure eight. A half a minute after that another large swirl chased away the fog for a couple seconds. That was long enough for both Mary and Josh to see Joe shove his fingers up a large intruder’s nostrils, yank his head back and ram his knife deep into his victim’s mouth and up to his brain. As he twisted and withdrew his knife, the escaping air from the man’s lungs released a gargling sound that echoed off the sides of the narrow pathway.
As the sun began evaporating the fog, Joe desperately searched for the third intruder. Suddenly he heard a strange metallic click. Beth also heard it and circled behind where she believed the sound originated. With the fog dissipating, she knew that their territorial advantage was running out.
Peeking around a sloped piece of concrete, Beth saw the kneeling intruder fiddle with a metal tube attached to the side of the barrel, of what looked like a short rifle with an oversized, awkward looking butt. The gunman’s finger nervously tapped the trigger guard as Beth snuck up behind her.
In front of them, a tiny piece of rust fell off the girder that Joe’s back was rubbing against. The intruder’s response was instant. The first almost silent bullet whisked away the haze exposing Joe’s position. The second bullet struck his shoulder and spun him to the ground.
Beth ran and thrust her knife into the gunman’s back. It didn’t penetrate. As they both fell forward, a half dozen more smokeless shots flew out of the strange gun’s mussel. Beth quickly grabbed the intruder’s right shoulder and pinned the gunman to the ground. With the point of her knife pressed against the gunman’s chin, she heard the strange rifle hit the ground and rattle off to the side. With a gleeful smile on her face, she glared into the intruder’s eyes and said, “Unfortunately for you we will need someone to interrogate.”
Daniel ran up and yanked off the intruder’s crude helmet. It was only a young girl. “She’s no Townie. Look at her eyes. She’s to scared to be a hunter.”
Blood was dripping from Joe’s shoulder and thigh as he limped toward the girl. “Look how smooth her skin is. There is even a chance she could be clean. Have the beast check her over. We need to send out a crew to retrieve the two bodies along with all the gear they were carrying.”
Beth began shoving the frightened girl ahead of her down the path. Joe bent over and picked up the strange weapon. After smelling its muzzle, he mumbled, “No gunpowder”. His fingers fumbled with the different levers and inadvertently caused the tube running along the side of the barrel to fall off. As it hit the ground, six plastic coated shells sprang out followed by a spring.
Daniel picked them up. He examined a shell that had part of its plastic scraped off. “Even their bullets are different. They are light for their size, but have enough mass to cause a lot of damage.” After using his knife to peel off more of the outer casing, he showed Joe the shiny etched metal it protected. “You were lucky.”
Joe handed the gun to Daniel before grabbing his shoulder for support. As they worked their way up the side of the mound, he caught a glimpse of the girl. “She’s certainly not from around here.”
Transferring a lot of his weight onto Daniel’s shoulder, Joe hobbled past Beth and the girl and sat down on some rubble in front of the main entrance. After retrieving the strange gun from Daniel, he handed it to David. “Take this to the Jacob. I need him to find out how it works.” Before David could take a step, he cried out, “Wait.” Pulling out the tube, spring and slugs from his pocket, he grinned and said, “He may need these.”
He bumped into Jacob in the entranceway. The blacksmith took the gun and gazed upon it like a newborn baby. “I gotta get this back to my bench.”
Enraged by the blood dripping down Joe’s side, Beth shoved the girl against the side of the large mound and slit opened her coat. On the inside of her coat were overlapping pockets filled with thick wads of bonded papers. They had turned her coat into a flexible suit of armour. Around the girl’s neck and upper shoulders was a thick collar made from hundreds of glued papers.
David joined the others that had gathered around the papers that fell out of the coat. Spotting a wad of papers with pictures on them, he stealthfully crouched down, snatched a bundle and retreated inside.
Their was something in the girl’s frightened glare that made Joe feel uneasy. Turning towards Beth, he barked out, “The sooner she’s processed, the sooner we’ll know what to do with her.”
Beth stripped the girl and tossed her clothes into a metal bucket to be burnt. Daniel tied a thick piece of leather to the naked girl’s mouth and forced her onto her stomach. With her head pointed away from the entrance, he told her, “I don’t think you want to see what is about to happen. For your own sake, remain still. Any sudden moves could inflame the beast and that could be fatal.”
Daniel held the girl’s ankles while Beth wrapped her hands around her wrists. After wrapping a muzzle over the sacred beast snout, Mary led it to the young frightened stranger. The round coarse haired beast snorted as it smelt the bare flesh.
The drooling beast tried to chew through its muzzle. Despite the beast’s shoulders only reaching midway to Mary’s knees, its powerful legs made it difficult to control. Wearing leather padding on her arms and legs she found herself in a tugging match with the beast. Fortunately, the platforms smooth surface didn’t allow the creature’s sharp hooves to get much traction.
Again and again Mary let it approach various parts of the girls flesh with the same results. The floppy ears couldn’t hide the red eyed beast’s frustration as it was continuously yanked back. “I have never seen a animal so excited. She definitely clean.”
Content with the beast’s reaction to the girl’s flesh , Joe decided, “We still can’t take any chances. Give the beast it’s reward and finish processing her.”
Beth tugged at the girl’s right ankle as Mary eased the unmuzzled beast over to her exposed calf. The beast’s violent bite was almost more than both Beth and Mary could handle. After it ripped off a mouthful of the girl’s flesh, two men ran over and helped Mary pull the beast away before it could take a second bite. It’s high pitched squeals echoed throughout the tunnels and announced the outcome to everyone inside.
While two men secured the beast, Mary wrapped it’s muzzle with a thick strip of leather. Stroking his neck to calm it down, she whispered, “Good boy, good boy. You served us well today.”
Beth quickly wrapped a thick pad around the girl’s injured leg and bandaged it the best she could. After wiping her brow and taking a few long breathes she grabbed the girls other leg and stretched it over two rocks. Picking up a hammer Beth drew in her lips and looked at the side of the twitching girl’s face. “Calm down, it’s almost over.”
As the words exited her mouth, she swung the hammer and fractured the girl’s tibia. The sharp crack was loud enough of everyone there to hear. Beth looked at Joe as he nodded his head, “Good job. Lets hope it wasn’t in vain.” Gazing back at the mound, he added, “The squeals from that beast might have drawn out some hunters. Lets wrap everything up and get back inside.”
After placing the leg in a splint, in a soft calm voice, Beth told the girl, “Skin and muscles grow back. Bones mend. To you, this may appear cruel. To us, the welfare of our colony must always come first. We can’t allow any kind of infection to be introduced into the colony, nor let a spy escape and tell others where to find us.”
Beth washed the girl’s entire body with an acidic smelling solution. As she shaved off the girl’s matted hair and threw it into a small fire, she told her. “We can’t be to careful. Parasites and foreign diseases can thrive in hair. Consider yourself lucky, you’re the first clean stranger we processed in years.”
As Beth stood up and got a blanket, the girl noticed the huge scar on her one leg and enlarged section of bone on the other. Beth watched the girl’s eyes as she covered her. “Yes, I was processed just like you. Unfortunately the person that did it smashed both my tibia and fibula. After the fibula healed the tibia had to be broken in order to straighten it enough for me to walk.” With a deep sigh she added, “Now, this is my home. It is all I have. There is nothing to go back to.”
With tears running down her face, the girl mumbled, “But I have.”
The words were barely recognizable, but Beth understood them. She shook her head. “If you did, you wouldn’t be here.” With a forced smile, she added, “Don’t worry, I gave you a clean break. Your leg should heal straight and your muscles will grow back. Over time you will see that the pain was worth it.”
Daniel and Josh placed the girl on a stretcher. As Beth removed the leather from her mouth, she asked, “What should we call you?”
With blood dripping from the corners of her mouth, she answered, “Sarah. Sarah of Coral Island.”
Daniel stood up and shook his head, “Where is that?”
Sarah closed her eyes and told him, “It’s a small island in the deep water beyond the sea.”
Josh and Daniel carried Sarah down the tunnel as Beth stopped to examine Joe’s wounds. They had only hit flesh and were clean. The bullets went in and came out without tearing to much flesh. “From what Daniel told me, you were lucky you didn’t take the time to dress.”
Joe felt his shoulder muscle. “I know. The shells were etched and designed to break apart upon impact in order to maximize damage. If they had hit a bone or the hem of my clothes, you would never find all the pieces.”
“Lets hope that the outside of them weren’t contaminated.”
With Josh standing watch, Mary and two other women took no time in washing away the remnants of Steven’s blood trail along with all signs of the skirmish. An hour later, the bright sun had evaporated all the wash water they used.
Perched on top of a large rocky cliff, Daniel could see smoke hovering above a town resting on the water’s edge. Every month the town’s population dwindled lower and lower. Of the thousands that migrated there after the melt, only a few hundred remain. Their numbers gave them the strength. When their hunts and sea harvests failed to sustain them, their food stores were propped up by public meat lotteries. The last Daniel had heard, two sacrifices were selected from the elders plus another from the women every two weeks. Refusing to enter the lottery meant death.
Gazing through his telescope, Daniel focussed his attention on the two foreign vessels tied to the docks. Unlike the fast slopes the townies used, the large, three hulled boats were fitted with both square and triangular sails. On the street across from the docks was a solid, brick building with a gentle stream of smoke flowing out of its chimney. A gentle breeze wafted some of the smoke his way. “They wouldn’t waste that much fuel unless the smoker was stuffed full of meat. Those poor fools had no idea who they were dealing with.”
After returning to the tunnel, Daniel approached Joe. “No sight of anyone looking for us. However, I saw two large ships tied to the docks.”
Joe stroked his beard. “Sarah said her family lived on an island. Maybe she was telling us the truth.”
Daniel lowered his head. “Judging from the smoke above their butcher shop, I think they slaughtered the rest of her clan.”
Joe slowly limped down a long sloping concrete corridor. Most of the steel doors of the vaults that lined both sides of it had been removed. The rest were permanently wedged in place by the massive weight of the debris pressing down on them. He entered one of the small vaults. A dim light radiated out of the neighbouring room through a small chiselled out doorway. Peering inside he saw Beth checking Sarah’s wounds. There was only one way out of the sealed vault, and that was through Beth’s quarters.
The mattress Sarah rested on was made from broken up chunks of foam insulation encased in cloth. Despite being lumpy and uncomfortable, it was at least warm and dry. Startled by the shadowy form looming behind Beth, she used her arms to wiggle and push her back against the wall.
Beth saw her cringe and barked out, “Don’t do that! Any quick movement could throw your leg out. I don’t want to have to reset it. Do you want to walk again or not?”
When Joe placed his hand on Beth’s shoulder, she flinched. In a deep but gentle voice he said, “I’m sorry for the intrusion but I need to ask Sarah some questions.” Looking at the bewildered girl, he asked, “How did you get here?”
The white faced girl snapped back, “I already answered that question. On a boat.”
Joe remained calm while asking, “When did you come ashore?”
“About a week ago.”
Crouching down and looking straight into Sarah face, Joe further inquired, “What happened after you arrived?”
Tears began to flow down her face as she recalled things that she would rather forget. “When we first got here the elders thought that the townsfolk looked off-colour and sickly. They wouldn’t allow any of us to leave the ships. Needing supplies and the use of a forge to repair a few broken pieces of equipment, both captains, an elder and some of the crew went ashore to barter for the supplies. When they didn’t come back that night, my dad asked one of the dockworkers if he knew anything. He left and came back saying that they were still working things out.
The next morning we noticed that everyone on the other boat had disappeared. Later that day we saw some of the people in the town were wearing their clothes. After they posted armed guards, it didn’t take us long to put two and two together. That’s when we found out that they had chained all three of the ship’s rudders to one side. We were their prisoners.
My father overheard the guards talking about some people beyond in cliffs. He figured if they could survive so could we. Using a baffling devise to silence his gun, my father and oldest brother shot and drained the street lamps along with killing the two guards. It didn’t take them long before they discovered we were gone. Thirty-four people left that ship. My parents and I were the only survivors.” Sarah looked up and glared into Joe’s face. “Then you slit their throats and turned me into a crippled orphan.”
After forcing down a lump in his throat, Joe solemnly replied, “We thought they were a scouting party. The Townies see us as meat.”
“They don’t even dress like us.”
“Their hunters are always trying to trick us. For all we knew, they could have taken clothes off someone they had killed.”
Daniel entered the vault and placed two bowls on the floor next to Beth. Beth turned to Sarah. “No one can change what was done.” Beth picked up the first bowl and passed it to her. “Now honour your parents and let both their spirit and strength live on inside of you. This bowl was your mother.”
Sarah glanced at the thinly sliced meat. After swiping the bowl with the back of her hand, she crunched her eyes and looked away, “You’re cannibals. You’re no better then they are.”
Beth stood up in shock. “We’re not cannibals. We don’t hunt people for meat. Don’t you believe in letting the good live on inside you? How else can they can help guide you to a better life?” Flipping over the second bowl as she stood up, Beth turned and retreated through the hole, “She’s nothing but an unappreciative heathen.”
As Daniel picked the meat off the floor and put it back into the bowl he told Sarah, “She didn’t mean that. Give her a bit to settle down and she’ll be back.”
With her left arm wrapped around her face, Sarah whimpered, “What did you do to my parents bodies?”
Staring at the dirt incrusted strips of meat, Joe stepped forward and answered, “The sacred beast has proven them clean and their bodies have been processed accordantly. Their flesh is to be consumed and their bone ground to enrich our gardens.”
Hidden in darkness Sarah blurted out, “So a miniature pig told you to butcher them? I never heard of anyone worshipping a pig before.”
Joe knelt on his good leg, “No, we don’t worship pigs. The beasts are tools god gave us to stay clean.” He saw the hatred in Sarah’s eyes. “You saw the sores on the Townies’ skin. Their bodies are full of toxins.”
After brushing off a piece of meat and placing it in his mouth, Joe added, “Besides that, if the beast didn’t like you, both you and your parents would have been tossed into the saltpetre pit to rot. The salt generated from your bodies would have been ground into gunpowder. In a land of nothing, nothing can be wasted.” Watching Sarah lower her arm, he slowly shook his head and added, “Not even you.”
Sarah looked at both Daniel’s and Joe’s faces and hands. There were no marks, lesions, rashes, hair loss or any other sign of disease. Shaking her head she told them, “We managed to stay clean without resorting to eating each other.”
Joe gave out a small chuckle. “You are young. You’re barely old enough to bleed. How could you know what decisions your elders made to keep your colony going?”
Daniel tapped Joe’s good shoulder. “Ask her about the air powered guns. Jake is still trying to figure out how to recharge them. If the townies added them to their arsenal we might be in deep trouble.”
Sarah looked at Daniel. “I don’t know anything about them. I never touched one until the escape.”
“How many did each ship have?”
“All I can tell you is that our ship had a dozen of them, along with a bicycle driven airpump. I imagine the other ship had the same.”
Pacing behind Joe, Daniel mumbled, “If they have that many rapid fire weapons they could overwhelm our guards before we had a chance to defend ourselves.”
Sarah piped up, “Most of the guns on the other boat may still be on it. We took all of ours when we escaped. Their’s may still be hidden in the ship’s gun compartment. They were always kept hidden at port in case of robbers.”
Joe thought about the ordeal Sarah’s family had gone through. “I’m sorry about your parents. Your father must’ve been a brave man. When we recovered his body he had four guns on him and two were covered in blood.”
Sarah rubbed her hands together and muttered, “Three were from my two brothers and my older sister. I watched those cannibals hack their bodies apart and toss them into a cart.”
Shocked by the size of Sarah’s family, Joe tried to pick his words carefully. “Four children, here you are lucky to have two.” Putting his hand on top of Sarah’s he told her, “In the world beyond your island people don’t live by your set of moral values. Food is scarce and people do whatever is necessary to survive.”
Sarah grasped Joe’s hand and stared into his eyes. “My neighbours couldn’t even bring themselves to pick a gun up. After being captured their infant daughter Rebecca started to cry as they were marched back to town. One of the men snapped her neck and tossed her into a cart like a turnip.”
Sarah looked away. “They were out of range. All we could do is watch. We were not warriors. Even with our guns firing twenty bullets to their one, we only hit a dozen of them before being overwhelmed. My parents stuffed me into a deep crevice and shielded me with their bodies. For some reason the Townies didn’t look inside it. I guess they were more interested in butchering my brothers and sister.” Looking deep into Joe’s eyes, she asked, “They butchered their own dead along with ours. What kind of people are they?”
Joe pulled his hand away and stood up. “A dying race of sick mutants.”
Sarah lay there crying as he walked away. Daniel followed him. “Joe, if the ship’s night watch were armed with a couple air powered guns, the townies may have up to eight of them already.”
Placing his good arm around Daniel’s shoulder Joe said, “Even more if they locate the gun compartment. We need to put a team together to make sure they don’t.”
Joe’s leg and shoulder were still stiff and sore. He could only stand back and watch as the others got ready. Daniel looked over his shoulder at Beth as she fastened a leather and metal brace around her bad leg. “Did you get all the information we need from Sarah?”
“I think so.” While securing the brace she added, “Without seeing the ship’s interior, it’s hard to picture the exact location of the gun compartment in my head. The ship has a lot of unusual features.”
After helping Josh put on an oiled leather slicker, Mary stood in the entrance and handed him a small bag. “Be careful.”
Holding onto Mary’s hands, Josh looked into her eyes, “Always.” He gave her a hug and a tender reassuring kiss. “Lets hope none of us need to use them.” He put the bag into his coat pocket and smiled, “They won’t be expecting us and everything should go as planned. We will all make it back safely. I promise.”
They knew that with the town’s dwindling population, strangers could easily be spotted. Fortunately for them, more dark rain clouds were rolling in. Disguised in the same leather coats, shirts and pants made from tanned human skin and soaked in black oil sludge that the men patrolling the town wear, only their faces and smooth skin could give them away. After plastering their hands and faces with ash and charcoal, they checked each other over, put on their wide brimmed hats and departed.
About half way there Josh opened the small bag. Inside were three small canisters. He put one into his pocket and gave the other two to Beth and Daniel. No one said a word. The poison inside of them was strong enough to kill them along with anyone consuming their flesh.
In the rain their large floppy hats hid their faces as they entered town. The odd lightning bolt lit up the semi ghost town and gave them a brief glimpse of its ever-changing layout. Walking down the centre of the streets, they travelled several blocks before even seeing a fleeting shadow in a window. The storm made the town folk nervous. During dreary nights, poachers were known to nab people for the black market.
Most of the buildings they walked past were mere shells. As homes were abandoned, they were stripped. Anything that could help repair or patch up one of the remaining houses was taken. Daniel turned to Beth, “Their days are numbered. They can’t live like this for much longer.”
“We’re not that much better.” Facing him, she added, “Our gardens are yielding less and less. If it gets any worse, we’ll have to split the clan. Finding and setting up a new garden and growing it to maturity takes months.”
Josh butted in, “We will probably be leaving with you. Mary has already started training a few beasts to help us.”
Daniel sharply blurted out, “Quiet.”
A block in front of them, four shapes had run across the road. Daniel saw at least two more on the side they came from.
Running in single file, the trio retreated into a narrow alley between two sets of houses. Trailing behind, Beth looked back and counted eight figures running after them. To confuse them they circled back to the next block. Spotting a burnt out shell of a large two story house, they crawled through a broken window. Inside there was a multitude of hiding spots to choose from. After running around inside the house in their muddy shoes, they climbed out of various windows and hid behind the remnants of the neighbouring house’s foundation. Laying stretched out along the inside of the foundation Daniel quietly spoke out, “They will be searching in there for a while. As soon as they are all occupied we can move on.”
Hearing loud footsteps pounding up and down the stairs, Josh peeked through a large crack in the foundation and whispered, “I can’t see anyone.”
Daniel whispered back, “Lets go.”
On their hands and knees, they slithered through the remains of three adjacent foundations and around to the far side of a small dark house. Between the rumbling thunder they could hear faint whispers coming from inside. Hiding under a collapsed section of wall of the semi demolished neighbouring house, they waited out their pursuers. They heard a knock on the house door and someone yelling, “We know someone is in there. If you don’t open up we will break down the door.”
Recognizing the voice, a thin man with greying hair lit a lamp and opened the door. “Grant, is that you? How can we help you?”
Two men rushed past the man and his frail wife while a third stood at the door. Grant’s large muscular frame filled the doorway. “We were chasing three potential poachers, have you seen or heard anything in the last while?”
The frightened man shook his head, “No, just you guys.”
After rummaging through the single room shack, the two men returned and announced, “The place is clear. There are just the two of them.”
After examining the rifle leaning next to the door, Grant looked at the scared couple’s dry clothes. Seeing that the only mud on the floor had come from his own men , he knew they were telling him the truth. “Sorry to bother you. Secure your door and windows when we leave. Illegal poachers are going to wipe us out if we don’t stop them first.”
As he turned to leave, the frail man asked, “Any news about some more meat. The smell of it smoking is driving us crazy. We are tired of eating sea grass, slugs and the odd jellyfish. If the mayor wants us to work, we need meat.”
Without bothering to even turn around, Grant answered, “We will let you know. Maybe tomorrow.”
Walking past the collapsed wall one of the men mumbled, “Why should we bother giving those two skeletons any meat. It would be like throwing it away. They should feel lucky that we are not eating them.”
Grant answered, “Without it, they won’t last another week. That last storm tore apart the kelp field and drove the jellyfish out to sea. The little meat we do give them will be returned in their harvest. Remind me to tell the mayor about them in the morning.”
Another man piped up, “Remember, they are the same age as us. The only difference is, we are better fed.”
Along the waterfront were a number of lit torches designed to make the town look prosperous enough to draw in curious travellers. From a distance, it appeared that all five of the town’s piers were lined with boats. However, most of the boats tied to the lines of rubble were mere props. The hulls of damaged boats were resting on shelves made of debris. The hoax was only visible close up. By that time the trap would have been sprung.
The two large trimarans were secured several piers apart. Beth payed no attention to the two guards posted on each ship. “Sarah told me that they were only one pier apart. They must have moved them for some reason.”
It took Josh a couple seconds to respond. “Maybe the sea harvesters needed the centre piers to haul their pontoon boats out of the water for some repairs. They are the only ones that have ramps.”
The ships’ elongated hexagon shaped decks were supported by three stainless steel hulls. The hulls were made from dismantled railway cars designed to carry refrigerated liquids. Two back to front cars formed the centre hulls. The single cars fastened to sides acted like outriggers in rough water. In the middle of each ship, a short covered stairway led down to their main cabins. Near the back, each had a wheelhouse and a strange metal box. The hulls were angled upwards at the front to help the ships cut through the waves. Each ship had three masts. A long bowsprits stuck out of the ships’ bows to extend the reach of their jib sails. Along with the lines to support the jib sails, the front mast had three spars. The middle mast had four. Each spar was designed to handle square, patchwork sails. The rear masts were rigged to support large gaffed sails to help steer the ship.
The gaffed and larger square sails from the lower spars had been removed from the closest ship. Using her hand to shield her eyes from the rain, Beth studied the other ship. It appeared to be intact. Beth could not identify either ship. Their damp jib sails were draped over the names of both ships.
“I wish I could see the first or last letter of one of the ships. Sarah told me that ‘New Hope’ was the ship she was on and that the ‘Fresh Start’ had the guns.” She twisted her head and looked at Daniel. “They had spent a lot more time on the closest ship. If that’s it, they may have found the guns. Lets hope it’s the farthest one.”
Daniel pointed to the flickering lamppost on the far side of the furthest ship. “One of the torches is going out. When it does, the far side of the ship will be the shadows. If we can identify it, we’ll know which one to scuttle.”
Daniel retreated into the town and reappeared a dozen metres from the burnt out lamp. Seeing the one next to it flicker, he signalled for Beth to wait a bit longer.
After the second lamp burnt out, Beth raised her hand when she felt it was safe for Daniel to cross the yard. With a short hook shaped piece of steel rod in each hand, Daniel headed to the pier, climbed down the rumble and slipped into the oil covered water. His leather hat and slicker seemed to soak it in. The chunks of concrete, jagged steel, tires and brittle plastic garbage were covered in thick black goo. His improvised hooks made the rubble easier to hang on to. He knew that a simple cut could cost him his life and condemn his body to the pit. With the gentle waves heaving and pulling his body around, he carefully planned every move he made.
A rope attached to the jib was resting in the water. Unable to see or hear the guards aboard the ship, he worked his way towards it. With one hook caught on a piece of metal, he stretched his arms as far as he could. Swinging his other hook, he snagged a dangling line. Using a gentle whipping motion, he tried to jiggle the sail away from the ship’s name without attracting any attention. The wet sails clung to the side of the ship and wouldn’t budge.
As the guards looked away, Josh and Beth snuck along the front of the buildings to get a better view of the ship’s bow. Hiding under a raised porch they patiently waited. A gust of wind help lift the sail and revealed the extended bottom of the last letter of the ship’s name. While shaking Josh’s shoulder, she told him, “It ends with an ‘E’. That’s the wrong ship.”
The banging of the door of a nearby structure announced the intrusion of two men carrying a ladder and a couple of containers. “These lamps have been a constant headache ever since those ships arrived.”
The rear man barked back a reply. “But why are we the ones being hauled out of bed all the time. I thought everyone was suppose to take turns?”
Their loud echoing banter nearly drowned out the surf splashing against the seawall. “Right now I am just glad that I am getting my full share of meat. Even with a full smokehouse a lot of people are going without.”
As he readjusted the end of the ladder on his shoulder, the rear man replied, “I guess they have to ration it. Who knows when we’ll get another harvest. They are getting further and further apart.”
“At least the dregs get some jellyfish and seaweed to eat.”
While positioning the ladder against the post, the lead man felt a drop hit his hat. Looking up he declared, “It’s still leaking. I told the mayor that both these lamps need to be replaced. They haven’t held oil since they were shot up.”
The other man looked around before saying, “It is not safe out here. I heard that Grant had spotted some poachers a while ago. Lets just patch it up as quick as we can, fill it and get out of here.”
Seeing the ladder facing the water, Beth whispered to Josh, “They could see over the seawall and spot Daniel.”
With both men gazing up at the lamp, the pair waited for the guards to look away. They pulled out their long bent knives as they leaped out. Approaching the men, they reached back and swung their knives in a wide upward arcs. Their footsteps and swishing blades caused the men to turn. Neither had time to utter a word before having their throats ripped open. Josh and Beth stuck their free hands into the gapping holes and used the men’s lower jaws as handles as they dragged the dying men to the shore and rolled them over the seawall.
As the rocking ladder twisted and fell with a thud, Beth heard the footsteps of curious guards on the metal decks. Seeing the bodies lying next the water’s edge, Josh and Beth jumped on top of them.
Daniel looked up as the noises drew a guard to the side of the ship. Seconds later the second guard appeared. “What happened to the men fixing the light?”
The first guard pointed to the fallen ladder. “Maybe they forgot something.”
It took a couple seconds for the second guard to come up with a reply. “Could be poachers.”
The guards low voices barely carried beyond the ship. Crouched on top of the dead bodies, Beth turned to Josh and whispered, “We’re trapped.”
On the far side of the pier was the New Hope. The staged boats along it were propped up bow to aft. “Daniel is on the other side of the pier. If we climb over these boats, we might be able to get around and join up with him.”
Even though Daniel wasn’t sure where Beth and Josh were, he knew they were safe. If they had been captured or killed, the guards would be more jubilant. While the guards surveyed the shoreline, Daniel used the cross braces between the main and side hull to made his way to the back of the ship. Once he got to the stern he used the docking line to climb onboard the ship. With the guards checking for any movement in the water along the seawall and pier, he stepped around the gear box that synchronised the ships three rudders and hid behind the wheelhouse.
A sharp voice rang out from the other ship. “What’s going on over there?”
“Poachers nabbed the light keepers.”
The other guard tapped his shoulder. “I better set up some more torches.”
In defiance the first guard grabbed the second guard’s arm. “I’m not leaving your side.”
“Fine, we’ll both set them up.”
The rear facing stairwell leading down to the main cabin was positioned between the two front masts. It only stood waist high with sloping sides. Its hinged water tight door had been left open. As the guards searched the water between the dock and the ship, Daniel snuck behind the door and waited.
After a guard climbed down to collect some torches, Daniel took a deep breath. He squeezed the handle of his knife until his fingers turned white. The second guard got down on one knee and yelled down, “Don’t take too long down there.”
Daniel stood up, leaned over the door and wrapped the edge of his bent knife around the man’s throat. With one tug, the sharp blade sliced through his neck and embedded itself next to the back of guard’s jawbone. Grabbing the back of the blade with his other hand, he used his knife to help him drag the body alongside the cabin and out of sight of the guards on the other ship.
Hearing the footsteps, the guard inside the cabin called out, “Ronnie, is everything all right? Did you see something?”
Daniel used a mirror to peek inside the cabin. He saw the barrel of the guard’s rifle. As the tip of the rifle’s muzzle poked out of the cabin, Daniel crawled over the dead guard and rolled on to the top of the cabin. Using both hands, he thrust his knife as hard as he could into the middle of the open doorway. The blade struck the bottom of guard’s right collar bone. With a strong upward tug, Daniel sliced through the man’s cracked collar bone, shoulder muscles and clipped off part of his ear.
The guard’s trigger finger tightened. Along with the blast and flash exiting the muzzle, a cloud of black smoke filled the doorway. As the guard fell backward, Daniel dove into the cabin after him. Unable to use his right arm, the guard reached for his knife with his left. His limp right arm got in his way. Daniel plunged his knife into the man’s chest.
Daniel’s eyes twinkled as pulled out his knife. With a smile on his face he watched the blood spurting out of the man’s chest. As the dying guard covered the gapping hole with his good hand, Daniel told him, “To bad your body will be wasted. It could’ve made good powder.”
The guards on the Fresh Start knelt against the railing and shouldered their muskets. “What happened?”
Trying to imitate one of the guards, Daniel answered, “We’re fine. My partner thought he saw some poachers and got trigger happy. The coward ran below to hide.”
“Did he hit any of them?”
“No, he just shot into the air to scare them off.” While ducking into the cabin, Daniel hollered out, “I better get him back on deck before Grant finds out how useless he is.”
One of the guards turned his focus towards the shore. “Why didn’t he just yell out?”
Daniel poked his head out. “He was scared.”
Using a mirror, Daniel saw both guards walking towards the bow. Casting off his hat and slicker, he layed down on his stomach and crawled to railing. As he reached up to extinguished one of the torches, he heard a ‘splash’ near the aft of the ship. Looking over the side, he saw Josh and Beth hanging onto the dock line. If they tried to board the ship, the light from the torches would reflect off their oily outfits. He had to hurry.
Seeing one of the torches go out, a guard on the other ship returned to the railing and yelled, “Are you sure everything is all right?”
At the same time, a window facing the shore creaked open and a woman cried out, “What’s going on?”
Moments later a small cautious crowd formed along the wharf. Grant stopped short of the burnt out lantern and got down on one knee. The blood and drag marks lead to the water. “Poachers would have dragged the bodies into town, not to the sea.” Eyeing the dimly lit ship he wondered if the guards could have been responsible.
Several people gasped as the last torch was extinguished. A wiry man pointed to the ship and yelled, “Did you see that?”
Beth and Josh quickly climbed aboard the ship. As Beth began cutting the mooring lines, Josh told her, “But this is the wrong ship.”
Beth wildly glared at him and said, “It would be suicide to try to steal the other one. We didn’t come here to be butchered and this ship is our best means of escape.”
Seeing a group of townies approach the ship, Josh grabbed the rifle and shot bag from the dead guard next to the cabin. Leaning over the cabin he fired at the poorly armed crowd. The bullet torn open the side of one man and hit another man’s leg. While the crowd scattered, Grant’s men blasted the dimly lit ship. As the surf pushed the ship’s bow into the seawall, Josh looked at Beth as he reloaded his rifle. “Now what? None of us have ever sailed anything like this before.”
Daniel finished loading the other guard’s rifle and shot a nearby lamp. With the ship plunged into darkness. Beth looked up at the sails. “It will take them a time to regroup. Daniel, help me unfurl some of the sails. Josh can keep them at bay.”
A second group of men knelt in the middle of the street and released a second volley of bullets. As the bullets rang off the hull, Josh noticed others dragging a small cannon out of a shed. After taking careful aim he squeezed off a shot and rolled towards the front of the cabin. A man with a red splotch on his chest fell against the cannon. It twisted and one of its wheels came loose. The cannon toppled over unto another man’s leg. Another volley of bullets peppered the hull near where the lingering black cloud had marked Josh’s last shot.
The sails were rolled up like Roman blinds with ropes woven through them and manipulated by a set of cranks attached to the bottom of the masts. After releasing the catch on the crank controlling the forward mast, Beth and Daniel tugged on the sheets of its square sails to make them taut. The sail blocked out the moonlight and the ship fell into darkness. Hidden in the shadows they became almost invisible, while the townies were easy targets. Another volley of bullets peppered the ship piercing through some of the freshly unfurled sails. Josh took his time picking a target. He knew the cannon could cripple the ship. As several men tried to right it, he carefully aimed and shot through the jugular of one and into the forehead of another. “I love it when they line up for me like that.”
Beth grinned, “Nice shot.”
Josh reloaded his rifle as Daniel aimed and fired. One of the guards on the other ship keeled over and howled in pain. “That makes eight, nine if you count the one with a broken leg. Is that enough meat for you or do you want us to kill a few more.”
Grant looked at the dark ship as the bodies of the two guards were rolled overboard. Behind the sails and gun smoke there was nothing but dark shadows. Without any targets to shoot at, he turned to a group of men and cried out, “Where are the rest of the cannons? Go and get them. Drag them if you have to.”
The dock grew quiet as a gentle breeze pushed the dark ship away from the pier. Grant walked towards the seawall and muttered, “We maybe out of their range, but they are not out of ours.” Gazing at the sea harvesters’ pontoon boats, he turned around and bellowed out, “Get those boats into the water and retrieve those bodies before the sea takes them.”
With the ships rudders jammed to one side, no one could steer it. Between the wind, waves, and rudders, the ship wanted to spin around in circles as the waves bounced it around. Daniel and Josh hoisted the gaff sail and tried to use it to steer the ship. They had to readjust it after every wave.
Beth looked towards shore and saw the townies pull the dead bodies out of the water and hack them apart. The bows of three small boats were pointed out to sea. “They are not done with us.” A minute later, a cannon ball splashed into the water a few metres off the port side of the ship.
“If we don’t free the rudders we will be cannon fodder.” Josh tied a rope around his waist and looked around for any signs of jellyfish before jumping into the water. The Townies had wrapped a chain around the centre rudder and fastened it to the propeller on the starboard hull. After coming up for air, he pulled out his knife and tried to pry the chain over one of the blades of the propeller. With a link of chain caught on the top of the blade, he had to surface. Between his gasps as he bobbed on the surface he yelled out, “I almost got it.” After another breath he added, “If I could turn the propeller, I could twist it off.”
Daniel rammed the steering wheel back and forth. “It was tighter then before.” Before Josh could dive back under the water a cannon ball narrowly missed the aft of the starboard hull. The corner of the ship rose into the air along with Josh and flopped back down. Josh was tossed a bit higher and landed flat on his back. After Daniel got back to his feet he went outside and looked over the stern. Josh was floating on top of the water with a growing film of blood floating around his head.
Grabbing the steering wheel, Beth banged it from side to side. Suddenly it started to turn. “The jolt must have freed it.”
Daniel grabbed the weighed line used to determine water depth and tossed it over Josh. As it slid over his torso and pulled him closer, Josh grabbed one of the knots tied along its length. Beth lashed the wheel in place and helped Daniel pull him aboard. Lying on the deck with a stream of blood pouring out of his forehead, Josh told Daniel, “The chain is probably still wrapped around the centre rudder. If it gets snagged it could tear it away along with part of the hull.”
While picking Josh up, Daniel responded, “That’s the good thing about having three hulls.” Placing him on the fold down seat at the rear of the wheelhouse, he added, “ We just need to get into deeper water.”
Under full sail the ship started to pick up speed and distance itself from the small boats. As Beth finished bandaging Josh’s head she watched Daniel fight with the sticky steering wheel. “I really wish one of us knew how to sail.”
Every swell tossed the ship and flailed the chain about. All Daniel could do is grin. “At least we will soon be out of their range. Beth take over the wheel. I have to try to disconnect the centre rudder in case the chain gets caught on something.”
Josh flopped his head to the side and peered out the back window towards the dock. In a semi-delirious state he began to ramble, “We are not safe out here. The seabed is littered with old mangled structures that could punch holes in the ship’s hull.” While starring into their faces he added, “Even if we can get back, our bodies would be rendered unclean. That contaminated goo we waded through has turned us into outcasts.”
. . . . . 29 more chapters to go to fined out who / if anyone can survive