CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE
The Turkanschoner had remained hidden when he detected the scent of the Tallmen ahead and had already been alerted by another more ominous and disturbing odour of something which had trailed Milly. He had considered warning Rislo, but it was already too late by the time the had detected the Tallmens’ presence.
The other scent worried him. It threatened Milly and his task was to make her safe. He could wait for a while, but time was short, he had to get to her before that which followed her did. He slipped back into the shadows as he saw Rislo stumble in chains out into the passageway followed by the Tallman patrol and watched as they marched him, sobbing loudly, away to the Towers. As their lights receded he moved stealthily towards the steps Rislo’s hideout.
Stealthily he moved upward. The scent of Tallmen filled his nostrils and hatred coursed through the body they had enforced upon him. As he rounded the curve at the top of the stairs, he realised that a light still shone from the room beyond the half open door. Someone was still in there.
He inched forward and peered inside. Inside a single Tallman remained. He was leaning over a strange cylindrical construction in the centre of the room, which was made from glasslike tubes and pipes about half his height in size and a similar width.
The Tallman was methodically dismantling Rislo’s glass contraption and placing each part carefully into a large sack. The parts removed were small, but his dextrous fingers were quickly reducing the mechanism to its component parts.
The Turkanschoner watched intently. In a few moments the device was all in the sack. The Tallman engineer completed his task and zipped up the bag with a look of satisfaction on his long featured face, stowed his tools in his belt and turned to retrieve his helmet from the floor.
His eyes met the Turkanschoner’s gaze and widened in terror. The beast leapt into the room and struck the gaping Tallman a powerful and accurate blow to the side of his head. He collapsed in a clattering heap on the floor and twitched uncontrollably as the life ebbed from his form.
The Turkanschoner stood over him, his body trembling violently, jaws opening and closing as saliva flooded into his mouth. His heart pounded as adrenalin flowed into his veins. His conditioning and animal instinct urged him to tear his prey to pieces and satisfy his compulsion to eat, claim his grisly prize. But slowly his newly found being enforced its will over his naked and brutal being. He panted heavily and clenched his fists to hold back the fury that threatened to boil over inside him. Slowly the intensity of these primal feelings subsided and his rational faculties began to function again.
The machine was important he knew. He should take it and return to his task. He glanced down at the Tallman’s corpse and saliva dripped from his incisors, a ripple of hatred washed again through his being. He should take the machine and go. This was important to his master. His body obeyed.
With his precious booty slung across his hunched back, the beast hurtled down the steps into the gloom of the corridor below. The girl’s scent was still strong amongst the stench of Tallmen and with his senses concentrated through his muzzle he could follow it easily. But there was something else too, that something which followed Milly. He could not place the scent at all. Its odour was different from all he had encountered in this world, all he knew was that it hungered, hungered with a grim passion for Milly.
The Turkanschoner sped through the darkness. He feared for Milly. She had moved quickly and upwards at every opportunity, exploring ever upward tunnel and fissure. Her pursuer had followed her. Eventually Milly’s efforts had been rewarded and she had found herself a way to out of these gloomy tunnels. The Turkanschoner followed emerged out of a filthy, broken culvert into the Upper City close to the great, eclipsing domes of the Halls of Machines.
From there she had sought the security of the rooftop world she was born to and had climbed up onto the domes. The Turkanschoner followed slowly, his hunched form not well suited to climbing and burdened additionally with Rislo’s machine.
The continual vibration from great lines of engines in Halls of Machines below him set the Turkanschoner on edge and made him wary. He crept from shadow to shadow across the roof tops as he followed the Milly’s airborne scent. He broke from the inky dimness and climbed slowly up to the top of the first dome and surveyed the scene ahead.
Before him the concrete landscape fell and rose again into the mountainous form of another dark dome. At its summit a large exhaust port poured its toxic gases upwards in a great, choking blue plume, which merged with the others from dome after dome to create a dense stagnant cloud of exhaust fumes which hung, almost motionless, above the Halls and the Upper City.
From where he now squatted he could see far out across the fumes shrouded extent of Dubh. It disturbed him. The city was a foggy expanse of tumbling and chaotic concrete and blackened brick. No- where was a space that could support the grass and trees of the world he could remember from his past before the Tallmen had taken him. No trees, hills or mountains here - just the panorama of the domes. No sky or clouds. Just the huge smog filled ceiling above his head.
His access to memories was becoming easier now. He could remember open grasslands and forests, rivers glinting in the distance. He found himself yearning for the sights and smells of pine forest and dew laden grass. He was homesick for a world, which for a many years, had been stolen from him. He missed people he could visualise, but not yet name. Yet he knew that he could never return to them. They were lost forever because of what he now was. He was an abomination that they would never accept as one of their own.
He shuddered in realisation of what this meant, and he felt an up surge of grief as he had when he had stood upon the real earth of that world which lay beyond the dimension door where Jonathon searched for Flax. He was dead. The Tallmen had sentenced him to a living death.
He growled angrily and tears flooded from his eyes. Then he howled as his anguish surfaced, bursting out of control into agonized cries which escaped his modified jaws to echo around the Machine halls and into the City of the Tallmen, piercing through the perpetual drone of the multitudes of machines below him. Searchlights on the in the sentry towers, alerted by the Turkanschoner’s howls, slicked into being, their powerful beams lancing out through the stagnant exhaust fumes and playing across the domes as their operators seeking to identify the source of the unnerving cries which penetrated the iron and steel of their refuges.
Although confused by the cacophony of long lingering echoes, they swept the roof top terrain of the Halls of Machines with a practised thoroughness and settled for a second on the silhouette of a crouched and horned form that stood arms outstretched accusingly toward the Towers.
In the blink of a Tallman eye, the apparition vanished as the echoes of its anguish finally subsided. One by one the inquisitive beams were extinguished as the sentries shrugged their shoulders and dismissed what they had seen as a trick of the light and the dreadful sounds, the result of the distorted echoes from some innocent source.
Other souls had been disturbed by the Turkanschoner’s howling and the explosion of light which swept through the gloom which cloaked the domes. One was Milly. Curled in tight ball hidden in the shadow between the domes, she was jolted upright from her troubled sleep, aware of the tormented cries which broke her exhausted slumber and dreams of her lost friends. She was spurred in to movement again despite the protests from her aching limbs.
Reality fell upon her in a cold, heavy wave. She was alone here and frightened. Dale and Tefkin were dead and Jonathon was lost, his fate unknown to her. Those who had killed the Whisperers may have taken Jonathon too. Tears rolled from her tired eyes to her cheeks where the dirt and grime from the cities air had settled, tracing new salty tracks alongside those of earlier grief.
The loss of Dale and Tefkin was a heavy burden for her to bear, but she lived in hope. Perhaps Jonathon had escaped too and searched for her right now. It was hope that sustained her. It was all she had. Without Jonathon she knew she could survive in this city, but it would be a life less than a life with one you loved and which made so many things possible. Such a life would seem almost impossible and a short vertical trip from the roof tops to ground might seem preferable, but for the moment she had hope and while it remained she would survive.
As the piercing beams of the searchlights died away, she dragged herself wearily to the top of the dome and glanced over her shoulder. Someone or something was following her, the one who had issued those painful cries which had sent a wave of empathy through her soul. She crouched low as the pursuing phantom descended the side of the dome behind her and merged with the shadow in its lightless lea. Milly did not move.
She searched around for a weapon but found nothing. Listening intently, she heard the metallic scrabbling of claws on concrete as her now invisible tracker made a hasty but painful ascent towards her. The sounds of movement stopped and were replaced by a harsh panting. Then a strange voice drifted up to her.
The voice was deep, guttural and made unclear by a wheezing shortness of breath. Did she hear her name?
Milly dismissed the thought, yet she heard it again. Who...?
The sound of ascent began again, slowly closing on her position. The voice drifted up from the trough of darkness in which the identity of her pursuer was submerged. It came closer and now the voice was clearer. “Milly!” it coughed, a hint of urgency in the call to her. “Jonathon?” she whispered, her heart lifting, yet a shadow of doubt clung to her torch of hope ignited by the speaking of his name.
There was silence. Milly prepared to flee as the clicking and clattering feet and claws moved closer still. It was close now. Yet its shadow against the buildings below was still no more than a vague inky blur. It stopped again. Its heavy laboured breathing was the only sound now. “Who are you?” the she shouted, a tremor in her voice as fear rose in her soul. The climber began to move slowly upward panting loudly as it came.
“You not know me.” he stuttered. “Jonathon sends me for you” the Turkanschoner stressed uneasily as he looked up at the figure of Milly peering down apprehensively from the top of the dome, poised to run the roof tops.
If she did he could never catch her in a world where she was physically and mentally his superior. Milly was preparing to flee. The climber labouring up towards her had not satisfactorily answered her question to calm her nerves, but whatever was down her knew of Jonathon and for the moment it kept her there, her curiosity overcoming her fear.
The Turkanschoner stopped short of venturing into the half light where his appearance might spur the girl into flight. He was also very tired. On the flat surfaces of the catacombs, caves and passageways beneath this city he was a perfect hunting machine, his body modified for short sprints at great speed. But here on the long curving surfaces of the domes the combination of his centre of gravity forever pulling him backwards and the crushing of his already reduced lung space had taken their toll.
He now gasped loudly for air and, when the sense of suffocation had abated, he attempted to speak again. “Milly, not run from me.” he wheezed. “I mean no harm. Friend. But am terrible. All who see fear. I monster. Please.. Do not run.” he pleaded.
If Milly ran from him it would have been more than him losing her and failing in his task to bring her back. When he had looked at her face peering down on him a flood of memories had returned to him, those faces of his wife his children peered down at him waiting for him to emerge from the darkness.
If Milly ran then he would lose them forever. If she ran then he knew that the effect of his hideous appearance truly would mean that he had lost them forever. If she ran then the tenuous strand of hope, a hope that one day he might return to his world, that wore thinner and thinner everyday, would snap completely. She was a test of that hope. Slowly he moved upwards and out of the shadow.
He was aware of Milly’s sharp intake of breath when she saw him for the first time. But as yet, she stood firm. She was horrified by the Turkanschoner’s appearance, but saw beyond the initial physical threat of his incisors and talons. She looked at his awesome jaws, but saw also the scars of torture on his head and neck where the Tallmen surgeons had crudely modified his bone structure to suit their purposes.
She looked into his fearful eyes and saw the suffering and pain he had endured for long years at their hands and that which he had felt since he had begun to realise what they deprived him of. She stood still and another tear ran down her cheek and the beast fell at her feet and sobbed uncontrollably. She had not run and there was hope to cling to.
The Turkanschoner lay on his side, sweating profusely, his reddened face glowing with a lattice work of angry scars, his temples pounding as he recovered from the effort taken to reach this place and Milly.
She waited in silence until he had recovered enough to sit up. Then he glanced up at her, his eyes a picture of tired triumph and gratitude. She smiled down at him and he gave forth a short laugh. “Why not run?” he asked. “Am I not terrible.” he questioned between short intakes of breath. Milly shook her head.
“You are not terrible. Only the things you have suffered are terrible.” She replied.” And they don’t make you what you truly are. ” he put a hand on his jaw.
“Am I not ugly?” he ventured removing his horned helmet to reveal more evidence of the contemptible work of the Tallmen. Milly looked at him and shrugged her shoulders. “Only to those who seek it. You are what you are” she replied.
The Turkanschoner stood up and held out a taloned hand to her and replaced his helmet, his hunched form towering over her. “Must return now.” he growled. “Jonathon soon return. Must be there.”
“Where?” Milly asked looking down toward the city, her heart pounding strongly in response to his name.
The Turkanschoner moved off down the slope of the dome as Milly waited. He stopped and looked back. “Back to where you run from. Giant friend too.” he grimaced and spat realising what he had said. “Come quick not safe here. Must join Jonathon”
Milly adjusted the yellow cloak Rislo had wrapped her in her and moved nimbly after the stumbling Turkanschoner, excited by his last words about Jonathon. She trusted the Turkanschoner completely. She had not only heard him say Jonathon’s name but sensed his presence in the creature, a presence that constantly soothed its tormented soul. Part of him was there within the Turkanschoner, alive and vital and it drew her after her unlikely companion.