He started circling me. I mirrored his movements. He came closer to the open door step by step. Was he after the meat too? My thoughts made me close in, ready to tackle him if he did a sudden movement. I did not have enough energy to let this chance pass. We reached the door at the same time. And stood there. I wanted to step in but he shook his head. And pointed to something that liked like a hip flask. A green hip flask in the right front corner of the shop with thin wires spanned between the cap and several hooks in the wall. A mine. I backed away and looked up to the German shepherd and nodded. He had just saved me from a trap. This world was getting more and more surreal.
Seeing my shock the guy turned and run further down the street, the same direction of the last gun shots I had heard minutes ago.
I felt exposed and vulnerable, helpless. This was a world of confusion. I was no soldier, knew nothing of mines, guns and guerrilla wars. For this was a war but I had no enemy, didnt know who set up that trap.
That wasnt quite the truth, the pain in my tail reminded me. I decided to follow the dog guy to get some information or even food. So I ran and easily caught up with him. When I was ten yards behind him I saw him turning his head, looking back at me. But he didnt stop. Just continued running. He stopped in front of a burned house on the left, made his way through the charred beams and debris and opened a cellar door on the backside of the ruins. I followed him in. The darkness outside was nothing against the darkness in the cellar. I could only see the shelves next to the door, some canned food, frozen water bottles on the left; benzene and some small caliber ammunition packs on the right. My eyes were adapting to the gloom. It was a small room with more shelves in the rear. Dog guy turned around and left. What was that about? Was I supposed to wait here?
He didnt stop at the door, just left. I wanted to rip open some of these packs but feared I would not be able to find him again. And I would still lack answers. I sighed jerked my gaze away from the rations and followed fur boy out of the cellar.
He continued running in the same direction as before. After another ten minutes a two lane main street crossed ours. It chilled my bones to see not a single car; not a single engine announced the presence of a coming car. Just the wind. I had forgotten that feeling as we ran along the previous street. Small streets might not have much traffic but this one was built for the average mayhem of a 20000 heads city.
Something lay on the street. Something with feathers. Something bloody and mangled. We came closer. There lay a body in the middle of the street, brown feathers everywhere around it, a lake of red had spread and was beginning to freeze over. A tire trace went from the corpse leading down the street. A red pattern every two feet. The body was crushed and unrecognizable. But the head was spared by the tire. It was the head of a
a chicken? The German shepherd kneeled beside and touched the feathers with a trembling claw. It was so grotesque with its red cockscomb, the yellow beak that still resembled a human mouth in a human face. I didnt know whether I should laugh or cry. It wasnt real; it was so absurd. There was no honor in dying like a chicken. It was so ridiculously puny but there lay another victim of the Melanoma Project, having died a very violent, brutal death.
I saw dogs chest spasm and expanding. An earsplitting howl shattered the silence, saturated with grief and rage. Nobody who might have come to hear that sound could possibly have misunderstood its meaning; it was the universal language of grieving souls. An image of Saph came to my mind. I could not possibly
I didnt know what I would do if it would be her there on the concrete.
The Shepherd turned the body around, got his hands beneath the bloody mess and lifted the body up; feathers frozen in blood stayed behind.
The trance was over, the silence registered once more. That howl must have been like a beacon for whoever had done this. I didnt want to be next. I looked up to get the attention of my grief stricken companion but his eyes were lost in the corpses face. I hissed and finally got him aware again. I nodded back to the street we had come from to indicate I was a bit nervous and keen on being off. He He simply ran off, jogged back the main street along the opposite lanes. We were heading southwest, through a park with a small lake, two blocks of office buildings, an industrial area mostly consisting of these instant steel and plasterboard halls that could be built in just two weeks. No light behind these windows either. This city was dead.
Running wasnt good for me. I was terribly exhausted and the adrenaline was wearing off. Just as I was ready to drop and let the dog go he slowed down. We were outside of Narvik, old industrial buildings and shipyards lined the shore. The dog turned around as if seeing me for the first time. Either he just came out of his own thoughts or he was just considering my presence.
The outcome was either that he noticed me or saw no danger; he left the street and walked on a narrow concrete pathway to a big factory building on the right. I tried to walk alongside him but as soon as he noticed it he shook his head and pointed at my imprint in the snow. He shouldered his burden to free a bloody hand, went back and covered them with fresh snow. So I fell in line behind him again. It was somewhat paranoid in my eyes but his judgment hat saved my scales before.
We got to the door and he knocked in a specific sequence not at the door but the metal frame of it.
As the door opened life just got far more surreal than I could have imagined. Bright neon light was streaming through the door, hurting my eyes. Movement, everywhere shapes moved, noises, speech and animal sounds, barks, growls, hisses, chirps; a cacophony of sound that startled me as did the light after the darkness and silence. Slowly my eyes were adapting. There were shelves in the area in front of the door, workbenches filled with food, cooking gear, boxes of all sorts, things that looked like engines, cables, solar panels, rifles, explosives, blankets, fabric rolls, plastic stuff
We stepped through the door. I noticed the guy behind the door. He looked like a fire victim, the skin was scarred, burned, eaten away; there were no hairs, no eyebrows and his lips were thicker than normal. He looked at shepherds burden, bowed his head and looked up again into dogs face. He didnt say a word. The building stretched further to the right. More benches, a fire place with a roaring fire in it, there was a wet scaly something on a rubber covered mattress reading a book, a husky was sitting at a table, eating something bloody, another husky was cleaning dishes, something in brown fur and antlers being fed a soup by a yellow bird thing. I had just stumbled into a really mad tea party. I was about to lose my sense for reality as a perfectly normal looking young girl approached us. Her harsh masculine voice threw me back into wonderland. She said something to dog then turned to the bird and shouted something else. The canary went to the sink, turned off the radio on a nightstand and came over to us. Seeing the bloody mess a sad sound escaped her beak. She moved her left arm that was longer than a human arm with longer fingers that spread out to span what seemed to be a far too small wing to support flight. I saw that she too was wearing some kind of glove and the strange cables were running along each finger again. Swedish sounding speech was coming out of the black box near her shoulder. Dog didnt react. She embraced him and with a feathered hand on the shepherds shoulder she led him to a mattress in the far left corner and relived him of his burden.
I was addressed in the same language by the eerie girl. An awkward moment followed. Hastily I was looking around for something to write in but there was nothing; the concrete floor was clean. I made a writing gesture with my left claw. She nodded and took a dry erase board from one of the shelves, put it in front of me and handed me a marker.
Im Glauca. Im looking for food and shelter for the night.
This is Opphold, Im Sam. Welcome. We are a group of affected that fights to survive. We unite to protect ourselves against the growing hatred of uninfected humans, until the WHO can mass-produce their vaccine.
A cure? What was she/he talking about? There was no cure. Was he talking about the virus? Or had Heinz considered the inhibitor idea?
The radio news mention a remedy in the making. We know no details but I doubt the state of confusion will last much longer.
Her last words faded out, my vision got grainy, black stars sparked everywhere and I lost first my balance then my consciousness.
Warm steam in my nostrils woke me up. Sara was holding a bowl of stew and a loaf of dark bread in front of my jaws. I nodded my thanks as she put both in front of me and I started slurping the spicy liquid halting only to take a bite of the bitter tasting bread. As the frenzy was over a wave of warmth and comfort rolled over me. I turned my head to orient myself. I was in the mattress corner; the scratch the bullet had caused was dressed. The atmosphere was calmer than before. What time was it? Night?
The little girl was speaking with Ake. She turned her head, saw I was awake, said something to Ake and headed my way.
Finally awake? Took you more than 18 hours.
I made the writing sign again.
I have a little present for you.He went to a working bench and returned with something.
Havent had a lizard yet. Your kind is certainly an oddity here. Most of us got infected through food, animals they worked with, their pets or in my case through my daughter
Well, should work just the same. Let me do some adjustments and then Ake will teach you how to use the interface.
Daughter? There was a story I didnt want to hear. Was there a second soul in this room, looking exactly like her dad looked now? There is no place like home
He took my claw and before I could retract it back he had pulled a very elastic black glove over it.
I was in electronics development before it hit me. I worked for a big company developing new computer interfaces. The project was simple: develop an interface that is mobile and could be integrated into clothes. We experimented both with voice recognition and a keyboard alternative.
He pulled the glove off, and clicked gray tubes into small metal clips along the gloves remaining finger length. The five tubes were connected with a black 2x3x1 inch box which he clicked into a base on the lower arm. Yeah, I know. Its somewhat awkward and it will take a while to get used to it but it helps. The tubes you see are filled with a light hydraulic oil; whenever you move your fingers pressure in the specific tube will increase and is registered by sensors in the box. The amount of pressure and the signal combination corresponds to a key on a keyboard. You are not from around here so I took the liberty to load your chip with English phonetics.
Wow. That was a solution for the same problem that was a little bit more sophisticated than my sandbox.
They are not perfect. The whole thing is quite sensible to shock. I half expect to repair the sensor whenever anybody goes on reconnaissance. Had to repair Akes this morning too. Im trying to replace them with voice recognition but thats a whole new dimension. Not only is it difficult to get parts but Saras voice box and Akes for example are completely different need a different set of parameters. And learning to speak is harder than using a glove. So youre stuck with the glove for now. Ake? Could you show our new friend the basics?
Hi, Im Ake. Nice to meet you. So Ake had been the name of the German shepherd. But that speech! Ok, it wasnt fluid and had phonetics that were different from English. But boy it was fast, only slightly slower than normal speech. How did he do it? I made the writing sign again.
Sure. Ill be right back. He picked the dry erase board from the shelves laid it in front of me and handed me the marker.
Nice to meet you. Im Glauca. I wanted to thank you for your warning and Im sorry for your loss. Was he your brother?
Yes. My younger brother
Sam asked me to show you the use of the glove. I brought some sheets with me to help you memorize the combinations, 36 expressions with 6 additional settings commands
We worked for hours and my head burned.
Is there a way to program it so it wont make noise when I dont want to talk?
You have to activate the general functions with a special combination. Saves battery energy too.
It was easy enough. After three hours I was already able to use it but at a snails pace. Nevertheless I was proud. I was able to talk again!
Who are the others?
Fish face over there is Rurik. He was unfortunate enough to be infected when he touched an infected fish on the trawler he works on. Worked on. His family and colleagues shunned him, something that is part of most of our personal stories. But we owe him much; he is a fishing expert and provides a good deal of our food. Sara you have already met. Bought an infected canary bird. Our doorman is Derek. Not everybody finds a way to deal with change. He freaked out when he was about to turn into something with exoskeleton. He used benzene and a match to cure his mind. Paradoxically his metamorphosis saved his life but
Kind of obvious. Sometimes I feel guilty that I still walk on two legs.
Well dogs are common around here. The husky over there working on the rear door is Tage. Was a carpenter before. We dont have the fancy tools but his expertise in statics is invaluable. At the moment he tries to make a ladder for Rurik so he doesnt need to walk the beach. We dont know how long we can stay in here but its surely the best place we have been in so far. The other husky is on reconnaissance right now. Her name is Gota. Sven over there, the reindeer was a shepherd and one of his animals caught the bug. He cant walk well for his spine is messed up and his hands have degenerated. As I said, sometimes I feel guilty for being lucky.
Thats all the guys at home right now. Tora, Ingrit, Artur and little Joel are out stocking up shelters.
Its impressive. How did it start?
I joined in later; if you want the founding story first hand you might ask Sara. Her spirit is what holds the bunch together. While Sam does the tricks and some planning shes the soul. We are all from around Narvik. The usual fairy tale beginning: Life was good, shit happened, people turned to monsters. People changed on both sides. We mutated while the other side started to fear friends and family, isolated themselves until their souls would hold the fear no more. And so murder followed. The remaining families in Narvik, those that have not mutated or fled are hiding. We tried to live in the city first but Frankenstein turned real and a mob with guns instead of pitchforks and torches stood in front of the place we were living in. Said they wanted to disinfect the city. And so we became hunted.
I remembered the guns in the shelter and the dynamite on the shelves. The hunted surely hat claws. This was a war. How long would the silence last?
With Sam joining us things got a little bit more organized. We raided the few development labs for parts, and raided the campsite. The motor caravans provided us with solar panels, batteries, power converters and generators and efficient heating. We try to preserve a small amount of culture, a little of the world before to bring to what will come after the transition.
You dont sound optimistic. You dont share Sams optimism?
Optimism is part of Sams job; its expected of him. Listening to the news even a blind man can read between the lines. This epidemic is huge and with drastic effects. What happens in Narvik is happening everywhere, Communities are falling apart, splitting up. We are on the brink of a worldwide civil war; humans against affected. We have the disease on our side; our numbers are swelling. The other side has history and infrastructure on their side. Im no prophet; I dont know what will happen but I know enough about the military to know that our future runs red.
Is that you contribution to the mix? You were a soldier?
I was trained but never saw any action. I was trained in tactics, special weapons and scout missions. So yes, I brought that to the mix which is why you are still in one piece and not a smear on a butchers wall. You know us now. What about you? You are not from around here, neither Norway nor Sweden. The way you write program instead of programme places you somewhere outside of Europe since most of Europe speaks and writes British English. And since you had contact with a lizard I would guess you are coming from U.S. Southern half, probably.
Very close. I worked in Massachusetts. Something close to Saras fate. When I noticed the change I thought I was going to die. I had good memories from a hike in the Sarek and wanted to spend my last days there. Only I didnt die.
So youve been wandering in the Sarek? Quite a wild story. How did you come to miss a good piece of your tail? Let me take a guess again
The reindeer farmers fearing you would infect their stock?
Telling the truth hadnt been very rewarding lately. Truth was what had sent the bullet in the first place. But Ake had shown so much trust. Had saved my life. I owed him at least not to lie.
No. Farmers and frightened townspeople are not the only group thats on the hunt. I tried to leave my past behind. But it caught up with me and the painful reminder on my tail was their parting present.
I wont ask you to explain your cryptic answer. I showed you trust in taking you here. But I understand that you dont want to talk about your past whatever it may be. I ask only one thing: Does your past pose a danger to Opphold?
Im hunted. You are hunted. I wont stay longer as I need to repay your kindness.
I didnt mean to throw you out. I have my own reasons for bitterness. But
The door burst open and a figure in white-black fur burst in. They are here! Over the
Time seemed to slow down. An object, a stick, flew through the open door, slowly revolving in midair. I saw it bouncing off the shelves, then two flashes. I closed my eyes in reflex but saw the husky flying through the open door her fur glowing reddish before my eyelids finally closed. A pressure wall hit me, threw me back against the plasterboards of the rear wall.
Muffled sounds, throbbing pain.
Another explosion this time in the middle of the room threw me through the wall, plaster and wood splinters flew like a fountain through the hole, bouncing off my scales or finding the soft skin between. I shook my head to clear it. We were under attack! I stumbled along the wall outside of the building, glass shards were everywhere, the black curtains that had covered the windows inside were hanging out or lay on the ground, burning. A 4x4 was parked on the opposite side of the street, two men with guns had taken cover beside the doorframe were about to enter. I felt fear and rage. I ran along the shadows but the light from inside and the burning debris was reflected on my scales. The first of the two guys raised its rifle just as I bowled into him. I found his throat, bit deep into it and slashed at his chest with my claws. The second guy pointed his gun at my head and I heard a shot. I waited for the pain but it never came.
I opened my jaws and let the mass slip out. A salty thick taste registered in my mind. In the open doorframe stood Sam, blood running down his face. He held a smoking revolver in his hand. Once more I was in the perverted version of wonderland, seeing a small girl holding a revolver too large for her hands with an expression of rage and battle lust on her face.
Someone was running to us from the blasted backside of the building. It was Ake.
Traitor! You led them to us. Did you cause my brothers death too? I will make you pay
Ake! Calm yourself. Sam slightly spread his arms and stood between me and the Shepherd.
He attacked and killed one of the three. Would a traitor do that?
I just know that he was a stranger that was in the area my brother died. A stranger that came to us only hours before the attack. Hours the three needed to scout! And I saw him run away!
Ake! We cant afford to fight ourselves at the moment. All I know is, that he killed an attacker. That is enough for me at the moment. Bring your concerns to the council if you must but you wont fight him now. We need to take care of the wounded and leave as soon as possible. If they scouted as you said they did a bad job; they caught us off guard but underestimated us. Do a perimeter check, then go inside and see to Sven. He killed the first but got shot in the belly in the struggle.
I wanted to go inside but Sam held me back. Thanks for your help.
Tage was stumbling out, a piece of wood buried in his leg. As he shouted For Gota I looked around and saw a smoking mess twenty yards from the door on the sidewalk of the street. I ran with Tage to see if I could help but the smoking bundle of singed fur didnt move, her head twisted in a strange angle and her chest completely deformed. I looked around. The fire in the front section of the building was bright, throwing dancing yellow shadows everywhere. There was the red ATV. It looked so normal, not out of place here in the north. I took a glimpse through the rear window. Some trash on the back, sandwich paper, empty plastic bags, a metal box, sand, an ice scraper, cables, spare tire.
I left Tage to his grief and ran back to the door. Another red brown heap behind the door was Derek. He got the full blast of the explosions, the first as the dynamite exploded and the second from the fuel and explosives on the shelves. Those that had survived had been in the mattress area or cooking section, farthest away from the first explosion. Another attacker lay on the floor, his legs broken, his head crushed. The body of Sven lay next to him, his head held by Ake. A pool of red blood was forming beneath his midsection in which several black holes were freely bleeding. Sara, where are the dressings?
Sara? I located Sara in the cooking area sitting on the floor, leaning against the cupboard. Her breathing was regular but she was unconscious. I ran to the mattress area, ripped a blanket in stripes with my claws and teeth and ran back to Ake and Sven. But Sven didnt breathe anymore. Was he still alive when I came in? I returned to Sara. Sara
Can you hear me? Wake up. Are you hurt? I checked her body but found only a laceration on her head and some of her feathers broken. I made use of the blanket stripes and tied it around her head to close the wound. It might have had little effect on the sterility of the wound and certainly didnt look professional with long ends hanging from the knot but at least produced a pained chirp. She returned consciousness. Sara, we need to go. Can you walk? She nodded. I looked around.
Sam was standing besides Ake and Sven. Im sorry but if we want to bury the dead instead of letting them decay here we need to bury them together with Bryan. Im sorry Ake, we will have a ceremony when we are safe and give them a more honorable burial when things are over. Tage! Tage? Im sorry for Gota. But we need to leave and we cant take the dead with us
. Is your leg ok? Ask Sara to help you dress it. Could you give Gota, Derek and Sven the final rest in Bryans grave afterwards? Take Ake with you. Has anybody seen Rurik?
The first explosion threw him into the wall as most of us, Ake said. But he might have left for the shore in the confusion; Im not sure.
Call him when you are down there to bury the dead. Glauca? You come with me. Lets see what we can take with us. Your backpack is back there leaning against the wall; bring it with you.
When I joined him the area in front of the entrance was still burning, shelves blown apart, gas spilled, thick black smoke was drifting up and out through the shattered windows.
A bloody mess. Sam sighed. The solar panels are useless, my sensors burned. It took me weeks to collect the parts I needed. And Im not sure if there are any left in my old lab
Ok, what else do we have? Glauca, get the rifles over there and bring them to the table. Check the shelves on that wall for bullets. I slung the four hunting rifles over my back and went to the shelves on the wall opposite of the entrance. The blast had shredded the shelves but the fire hadnt reached that section of the building yet. I found three boxes of bullets but wasnt sure whether they were the right caliber. I placed the boxes in my backpack and brought all to the tables in the cooking area. When I returned Sam had found some boxes that had been blasted from the selves and might still contain usable chips, resistors, batteries, etching tools and other stuff I had no idea what it was. What about the generator? I asked. Too heavy. We need to be swift. Its just a five hour trip to the next shelter but its open ground. We will hide it in the basement. All shelters have solar power. Its not much during the winter but some light is better than nothing. Could you take care of the gen? I nodded and followed the cables on the ceiling to a window. I went outside and found a rattling box this size of a suitcase. I unplugged the cable and killed the engine. The 2000W Honda was not lizard friendly; it had a handle but no wheels and was quite heavy. I burned my nose on the exhaust pipe trying to drag it. I set down my backpack and used its straps to secure the big plastic block to its frame. I had some trouble to get it on my back but once it lay on my shoulder blades it could be balanced there halfway comfortable. I brought it back to Sam. Your gen. How do I get down?
I thought about it. I doubt the basement will be a safe place; they will check that first. Ask Sara if she can help you getting it beneath the cupboard cover instead.
That thing was getting heavy. Together with Sara we lifted the floor board of the lowest compartment and hid the generator inside.
Ake and Tage returned from their gravedigger work. We added some food to the pile on the table, filled backpacks with it and finally left the light of the fire and dived into the long night of the Northern winter.
Nobody spoke as we headed south, along the coast. Ake and Tage were walking behind Sam. I didnt want to look into their faces; I feared they would look the same, marked by the loss of loved ones.
I was walking beside Sara. The rhythm of the surf was soothing my soul.
Was my life still on course? I had found my paradise in the Sarek. I broke it myself by allowing my past to poison it. And now I was fighting a war, had killed a human being. The taste of his blood came to my mind and bile forced its way up. I had thought happiness, the joy of living would be enough. Why had I given up my paradise then? It was illogical. Was it honor? There was no honor in ripping out a mans throat. Nor in burying the dead.
A city torn in two. I had little hope that a cure could heal the wounds in history.
All thoughts, all inventions, all creation that had come into existence could never be undone. Every thought has consequences, every creation occupied space that can never be filled with something else. The Melanoma Project would have consequences both physical as well as emotional. I didnt believe that there would be a perfect cure getting all infected animals. There was always a niche a disease would hide. Thats why Ebola still existed, thats why no cure has been found for AIDS and why there were still small outbreaks of the black death. The disease had solidified into a hard, undeniable fact. It existed and would continue to exist. The disease was now another pawn of evolution; it would adapt, and it adapted fast, faster than mankind. It was alive and, although being unaware, it would fight to survive.
The emotional effects were similarly undeniable. Mankind was always classified itself in skin color, religious beliefs or social status. And fear had always turned out the worst in man. I heard brilliant speeches of politicians claiming otherwise, that fear would unite people. I always considered this a misconception. In their eyes shared fear of something outside would make people forget differences. But So far we were never threatened by something outside; we ourselves were the worst enemies we had to face on earth. We had to, being pawns of a social evolution. We had thwarted our biological evolution only to find ourselves subject to another, faster evolution. The hatred of the people was part of it. It helped to save their culture.
The Melanoma project had shattered mankind into subspecies. And the numbers were growing each day. In the long run the pandemic would convert or kill every animal life. Being outnumbered, being overrun by another species is something every species fears. And so uninfected humans would battle us to reduce our number, to stay dominant.
Was my life on course? I how could I change course when things were too big for me to change? I was no longer master of my fate. I hadnt wanted to leave my heaven yet I had. I didnt want to fight in a battle yet I had killed. My illusion that life was filled with philosophy, the manifestation of free will was shattered. Forces influenced my life, invisible, unpredictable, irresistible.
I didnt want to fight. Humans were not my enemies yet they tried to kill me. Three times already.
How do you stand it? I asked Sara. This was your city, people you know, people you met on the streets that are now attacking you. I doubt you are enjoying war. Yet you fight.
I wished there would have been an alternative. All I know is that Im alive and have a right to live. I have neither provoked the change we all underwent nor the hostility that has no become a war. I live in the presence. I deal with what is. Fact is that people deny us the right to live. I disagree with them, I want to live.
We have two options: Either we go into hiding and will be constantly on the run or we claim what is rightfully ours. I was a reporter for the local newspaper. I had a home, paid my taxes, and went to church on Sundays. That life was nothing special but I liked it that way. It was nothing special because it was just like every other life in Narvik. Everybody did his part and lived for him or herself. And all of a sudden that is denied to me just because I was infected? We found out that we are not infectious anymore but they wont believe us. We were banned. On what base? I was part of it most of my life. Im as much a citizen of Narvik as those whose blood doesnt contain the disease. And it hurts being chased out of your home town. How I stand it? I want my life back! Who wouldnt?
You say you live in the presence yet you want your old life back. What if it will never be like that again? Ive been a lizard for months, was one of the first to be infected. My past died with the agony of the transformation. Ive found peace. I came to feel comfortable in my new life. I found a satisfying simplicity that enriched my life. Before you cut in: Yes, Ive lived the life of a beggar and a wild animal. I never said it its perfect or doesnt need improvement. But it was the first time in years that I really felt free.
You are a single person. Thousands have been infect and soon it will be millions. They cant all hide.
Here it was again. I had no answer to how the world should handle its problems. I had enough to deal with in my own live. To find a solution for billions of lives would crush every shoulder.
I have no solution for the dilemma. So far the estimates are, that a third to fifty per cent of infected individuals die. I dont suggest murder as a solution but merely want to point out a fact that goes into your equation as well.
And how do you think the future will look like? Even with only fifty percent survival we are talking about three billion lives. What should be done in your opinion?
As I said, I have no solution. The disease wont stop. It will run through. The remaining
ure humans will fight us. And loose. Not because we are superior, quite the opposite. The reason for their failure will be that their numbers will get lower and lower as they die or get converted while our numbers increase. I fear what they will do in their panic. I dont want to even think about it. But in the end they will retreat into an ecological niche were they will survive or get extinct.
You fear their reaction but still consider doing nothing the best way? Do you expect others to do the dirty work for you?
No. But while I fear their reaction I even more fear what would happen when we would increase pressure on them. We still have a chance that there is a more or less peaceful transition.
They fight for their survival. Every living being gets aggressive if cornered.
Right. But I still hope that they are spending the time discussing their action until its too late. When their numbers are so low their actions are no longer coordinated and inefficient they might retreat without releasing the full power of their arsenals. They have an antivirus, designed to attack the disease. I have reason to believe that this would kill another good deal of earths life. I fear it could mutate before having any significant effect on the disease. When we press them hard enough the risks might seem irrelevant to a dying combatant. Why care for side effects or risks when you are dying anyway and you can get even the slightest hope or the prospect of revenge by releasing another pleague?
You know more than you admit. Your past is your past. I wont ask. That virus; is that the cure they talk about in the news?
Thanks, Sara. I dont know. Could be. But better pray it isnt.
We walked on and stopped for a short break. Sara handed me a piece of hard, dark bread and a white papery sheet that shad white flakes when I flexed it.
Whats that white stuff? I asked her.
Ice smoked fish. Rurik did a really good job and thats how we preserve fish. The fish is skinned, gutted, cut in half and the bones are removed. Then we nail it to wood boards leaned over a small fire in the cold. The heat is not enough to really smoke the fish but enough to keep it from freezing. Over the next 24 hours the water in the tissue is evaporating and instantly freezing in the air. Since the air is cold enough that it holds no moisture that could return, the filet is as dry as paper afterwards. And wont perish for months.
Smoking fish would be a nice idea for my home but I had no wood. There were no trees in the upper Sarek.
We went on, further south. Finally we turned east at a stream and followed it for another mile, through bushes and thicker vegetation. After an hour we came to an abandoned barn building. These crude wooden shelters were not uncommon here, used either as shelter for nomad groups or to store hey for the herds used in harsh winters. It was nothing fancy, boards nailed together to form walls and it even had a roof. But light was shining through the window and the spaces between the boards.
Sam opened the door. And was looking into the muzzle of a two barrel shot gun. It ended in the back claws of yet another strange creation of the Melanoma Project. It was brown furred, had small black eyes and rodent teeth in a slightly bulging face. The claws didnt quite seem to be optimal for operating a gun, the left claw was a full hands span from the wooden grip beneath the barrels while the other claw was too small to hold the shoulder grip as well as the trigger and instead held the trigger guard. Doesnt give you a good feeling. Especially when this gun was a shot gun directed in your direction.
Sam said something I didnt understand. Easy Ingrit, its just us. Sara murmured the translation for me. Ingrit lowered the gun. Your last message was a bit unsettling. Next time you better knock the code.
We have a new friend with us, Glauca. Is it ok when we speak English in his presence?
Nice to meet you! said the box on the brown feathered figures shoulder in the back. Im Arthur. Come in.
I was wondering why he had taken over the conversation while I would have expected Ingrit to continue.
A misshaped existence came out of the shadows in the far left corner. Black skin shone underneath white fur. He, she or it was small, maybe four or five feet. But that face
Red facet eyes, antlers, rodent teeth and completely covered with hard black skin. And ridiculously long white furred ears. So definitely a mad tea party member. Where was the mad hatter?
Thats Tora and, pointing at a rather normal looking child on the table to the left, that is Joel.
An awkward silence followed. I didnt know the reason for it. Maybe we were all exhausted, had too much adrenaline in our blood, maybe having an introduction in English was strange for them, maybe it was the loss of comrades or all together.
Is there a place I can rest? I asked.
We have some selfinflatables and blankets on the shelves. Artur said.
I had gotten used to jumping with my front legs, taking hold of a wall or shelves with one claw while the other was free for business. I got me the mattress roll and a blanket, waited till the thing was inflated and fell onto it, glad to have a place to relax. But I didnt sleep, just lay there, listened to a conversation I did not understand. The conversation sounded agitated, mostly between Artur, Sam and Ingrit.
Sara came over, spread her own mattress. You are not asleep, are you?
No. whats the discussion about?
We brought them up to date. I gonna stretch my feathers a bit before I go to bed. Want to join me?
I wasnt in the mood; I was tired. But I had some questions and the impression she had some too.
I nodded and we headed out, left the others to their talk.
You looked a little startled when we got through the door
She opened the conversation.
I have found a feeling that is worth living and dying for. Yet I left my heaven and went to Alices Wonderland instead. It all seem to be a cruel joke. I had that wonderland feeling when I saw you guys the first time, no offense meant, and I had it again when I saw Ingrit and Tora. It is too bizarre to be real; I dont know if I can accept it as real.
Welcome to the new world. I doubt there is anybody who wouldnt doubt his sanity in this situation. Ingrit is not the person who backs up easily, her life on the cattle farm must have been hard. You have seen her holding the gun. She has guts. Ironically that was part of her metamorphosis. Another person might have ignored the mouse or chased it away. Ingrit killed it with the skillet, out of reflex, as she said. The mouse happened to be a carrier. That happened rather recently. And it is hard for her to leave her life and adapt; she cant identify with her new body, rejects it and with her temper, thats dynamite on a short fuse.
The air was cold, the sky clear. I had to admit it was good to walk without my backpack. And I enjoyed the conversations with Sara after the months of silence.
Whats Arturs story? Hes a lucky one having been infected by a bird of prey.
Common Buzzard to be precise. He worked as falconer in a little zoo dash wildlife reservoir. Have been there once with my parents. Its not big and the show they do for the tourists isnt spectacular. His transition was rather easy; he came to us before the day-five-crash. Its easier to have people around you when youre down. It wasnt so nice to go through it all by myself at home. That might have been the reason why there is tension between Ingrit and Artur. While her life was hard he had it easier and was lucky with the infection.
Does Ingrit realize that it could have been far worse? I mean, one look at Tora should be more than needed to make her appreciate her fate.
Wouldnt that be cruel for Tora?
I didnt suggest pointing that fact out openly in Toras presence. But as there will always be someone who is in a better situation than oneself, there will always be someone in a worse dilemma too. It helps to ignore others fates to focus on building your own dreams. Building
that was a lie. But it came so easily. Had I decided living the lie, that there was free will?
Sorry; that doesnt make sense. You suggest ignorance as solution for peoples problems? Where is your empathy? How would you feel being half midget fly half your pet bunny? Dont you want to comfort her when you see her?
I know what you mean and yes, if I could I would change her fate. But I also thing that words alone are not enough. Empathy and sympathy without action can hurt more than being left alone. Its the same phenomenon that makes you feel alone and deserted in a crowd. I dont want to remind her of her misery; distraction is worth more.
You are a bit too logical, my friend.
Helps to decide the battles within that are fought with emotions.
And these battles would be?
A chess game; black against white. Played by blind players. Whats Joels story?
I think you have been alone for too long. You are lost in parables and analogies. You effectively lost your ability to talk.
You might be right. Or just waiting for the person who speaks my language.
Joel is a mild case but an outcast nevertheless. He caught the human strain from some other kid either in school or on the playground; he doesnt know. We found him on a reconnaissance mission, in a deserted home, half starved. His mother who had raised him alone, had abandoned him. Joel said she would have had mental problems before but thats not an excuse. His changes were mild; he showed us some pictures. His hair turned from blond to brown, his face changed but otherwise he is perfectly normal.
Not the easiest life, between the fronts. Might be a good ambassador once.
Havent you been thinking spy? He is still a child, nine years old. Maybe. Maybe not. He has yet to taste life. What he will do is up to him.
Just thought aloud. Im just a visitor; I have no command and wouldnt force him into a role if I had. I have no interest in that war as you know. That talk inside there is about retaliation, right?
It was as we left.
How do you decide who is a combatant and who a civilian?
The person with the rifle in the hand is a combatant. Easy enough.
And what if hes just defending?
Defending is part of military planning. Passivity of a single soldier doesnt reflect the overall strategy.
You are not fighting soldiers. You are fighting some inhabitants of Narvik, people who have no training and dont think like soldiers. People like you that were just doing their part.
And the bullet wound under that dress? They shoot no blank cartridges! Akes brother is dead, buried together with three very good friends of mine!
Sometimes both sides of the coin are the same. I will fight the next battle with you to repay my dept. But I will not fight the war. Sara, you are right: Im sometimes ignorant and cold hearted. But its that flaw that tells me that your passion for your cause can make you blind.
Its you that is blind. We were attacked. My friends died! We are not the monsters here.
And the targets in discussion?
The Sunday mess, a pub that serves as militia headquarters, the fuel depot and a trap.
I hope you are not really considering the church. That would be the wrong signal to send.
Not if we want to demonstrate that we are as ruthless and unhesitating as they are.
And you think you can win that auction for the hardest attack? You think that will honor your dead or prevent those friends of you from dying that are still left you?
Glauca, lets go back in again. Its gotten late.
The short way we had gone we returned in silence. Another conversation with a bad aftertaste. Who was I anyway to meddle with their affairs. Not my business. But I had just committed myself to their plans.
We returned, knocked the sequence and went in. Ake, Sam, Ingrit and Artur were already on their mattresses. Tora and Tage were sitting at the table and Joel was throwing more logs into the woodstove.
Do you have something to drink? I asked.
The stuff that banishes the dust in the throat or the stuff that makes you forget? Tage asked.
Water will do for now. I fear a strong drink would let me forget even my name at the moment.
Water it is. He said and poured some out of a metal canister beside the table into a wide bowl and put it on the table.
I jumped with my front legs on the table and pulled my hind legs onto the bench. Wasnt quite comfortable but better than talking from beneath the table. The water was cold and clear, a flat aftertaste due to the high mineral concentration in the area.
Did Sam decide yet? I asked.
The fly-rabid moved his right black hand. It was gloved, covering the worst but the strange fingers, with suction pads simply gave me the creeps. Its not for Sam to decide. And you better get used to the sight, newcomer. Otherwise tomorrows breakfast will be a whole new experience for you!
Wow, how old was Tora again?
No offence, Tora. Who is in the council?
Sam, Artur, Sara, Rurik and
Gota. Tage said.
I didnt know Gota. But I have a deep respect for her that she tried to warn uns. She knew the attackers were on the other side of the street and she ran nevertheless knowing that she would likely be attacked from behind. Im sorry Gota.
I would have preferred to die in her place. She was my sunshine. She gave me a reason to live after the trafo. And now Im haunted by my memories.. It hurts
I understand. Memories of Saph were once again seeping into my mind. Would I see her again? Her smile
The feeling of her smile and this forlorn place were at different ends of the universe.
I will not be alone in my grief before this is over. I will spread that feeling among them. You want our plans? We will attack their headquarters, hard and unexpected. Ill take their grief as their condolences.
Its late and only hours have passed since the attack. We all need some sleep. Tora said and we all went over to the others to slip into the blackness of a winter nights oblivion.