The Marconi Paradigm.
Vatican, Pope Julias XVI.
The Holy Father’s personal quarters had that musty smell you find in an elderly person’s home. Not quite the smell of death, but a lingering background smell that wants to suck you into it.
He sat at his desk having just completed the world mass to an audience of two billion dedicated Christians. He had spoken of the ongoing war with the Muslims. How through prayer and endeavour, new ground had been made in the fight for territory with few casualties. About how the field hospitals were caring for, and saving, countless injured fighters, and about the martyrs that had not been so lucky.
Since the Tellurian Nuclear Eradication Treaty Earth had gone back to basics. In order to never again see the level of genocide witnessed on that fateful day in 2201, Earth had embraced a new supposed path to a better future. All technology was banned by Muslims and Christians. In fact, the putting together of the Treaty was the most sedate ten years that the Earth could remember. Both parties striving for a future that would be separate, but peaceful. Land divided up. Continents divided up.
The outlawing of technology was far easier than anticipated. Humanity had become reliant on it. A self-replicating dependence that was efficient and fast. With this, came the ability for information to be disseminated immediately to millions, however, control of this information was nonexistent. Human selfish needs and inherent greed thrived using this medium and consumed itself. As soon as satellites and interwebsphere became inoperable, all the intelligent receiving devices followed suit.
The internal combustion engine was now the most technical thing on the planet out with the Tightbeem, which was itself controlled by a wing of the church rumoured to have direct access to the same section working within the Muslim camp. After the Tellurian Nuclear Eradication Treaty, twenty years of peace talks and blame apportioning, it was agreed that the only thing that they could agree on was that neither side would ever agree. Massive exoduses ensued with both religions congregating in the few habitable areas left. All other religions out with Christianity and Islam were outlawed.
‘Holy Father may I say that was a beautiful touching sermon today.’ Father Meniux was an incorrigible sycophant. He had flattered and manipulated his way to a comfortable job as Pope Julias’s chief attender.
‘Thank you Father Meniux. I think it went well.’ Julias hated Father Meniux with a passion. He only tolerated him as he was easy to control. He played him like a fiddle competently, which in turn, saved him having to conduct the rest of the orchestra. A few words to Meniux and things got sorted out. He only had to turn a partially blind eye to his rather strange pastimes.
‘Holy Father I feel that God himself is speaking through you at times. Not even he could show more wisdom or compassion in his words.’ Father Meniux bowed his head as he spoke.
‘Father Meniux, I am but a fly compared to Our Lord. Yes, I try to preach his tenets, but in a bid to understand him, it's easy to miss what's right in front of you.’ Pope Julias was a master of prattle. He could preach on Tightbeem for hours without really saying anything. Truly, a gift from God. ‘My lunch now, if you please Father Meniux.’
Father Meniux left the chamber and sent in the waiting serving girls. They carried two large trays of corn, some claret and fresh bread. Food was scarce, but you wouldn't think so looking at Pope Julias. Often Meniux was reminded of a dead horse he had seen once years ago. Its body was blown up to a ridiculous unnatural size as decomposition set in, and the gases tried to get out. He often thought how the Holy Father would pop like a balloon, just like the horse did.
Each lunchtime Pope Julias would devour enough corn for a small army. He dismissed the servers and sat to begin. After gorging himself, the Pope knelt down to pray for guidance and inspiration for his second of the day’s world masses. No sooner had he began when, in the corner, a casually dressed man in his twenties appeared in front of him. Astonished the Holy Father then heard, ‘Holiest Father! My name is Vaughan.’
The young man confidently walked over to the sitting Pope Julias and leaned on his large desk. Pope Julias was still dumbstruck ‘Relax Holy Father,’ smiled Vaughan, ‘May I have a minute of your time?’
Rome, Priest Development quarter: Santiago.
Santiago spilled most of his morning tea over his lap and was sure that God was telling him his latest sermon needed a bit more work. He knew he was on to a telling off from his wife Anna for not sitting at the dining table, but to be honest he couldn’t be bothered as he would be sitting in his torturous wooden chair all day at the Ministry.
His kitchen was small but functional as was pretty much every room in his house, but he knew he was lucky to have a covered roof and thanked God daily for his good fortune.
From an early age Santiago was a dreamer. He always had grand ideas and plans which did no more than land him in trouble. More curious than mischievous, he recalled countless occasions where he had come a cropper. Once as a child while cleaning the tabernacle in the church, which he did before the service every day, he had the bright idea to see if he could fit inside. He remembered thinking that if Christ was in there then he could fit too. The flimsy stand gave way as he got his legs in and the tabernacle toppled onto the old wooden floor face down, locking him inside. The twenty minutes he was trapped felt like days, and when his father freed him he was rewarded with a hard boot up the behind but nothing more was ever said.
‘Don’t even try to cover up the mess you have made!’ said a furious Anna, who had spotted Santiago’s vain attempt to disguise his clumsiness.
‘Sorry darling!’ Santiago lied, ‘Get me a cloth will you?’
‘If you sat at the table I’d not need to get you a cloth,’ Anna scorned.
‘Yeah yeah, very good. Now get me a cloth please.’
Santiago wiped his crotch and his old easy chair which had belonged to his dad. As he dried it off, he thought of how much easier things had been before his father’s death in the 2403 push. Whilst driving a bandit, a small cart pulled by a rudimentary traction engine, an anti-personnel mine had exploded underneath. Miraculously, Marcus Rees was saved; he was transporting drums of cooking oil which softened the blast, but whilst lying unconscious, he was bitten in the arm by a snake. When he was rescued, it was assumed that the bite was damage caused by the explosion and, as conditions at the field hospital were antiquated, only a field dressing was applied. Marcus had often said more effort was made erecting temporary churches than helping the wounded and prayer did not prevent Marcus from dying a slow painful death from blood poisoning.
Santiago had only ever been told about the explosion and dreamt of his father’s heroic end whilst saving someone’s life.
‘You need to be more careful! That robe’s to do you till Friday!’ Anna moaned.
‘I know Anna, just a bit nervous about this nonsense today. Why would the Holy Father want to see me?’
‘Maybe they finally realise what a dedicated servant to Christ and the Fatherhood you are,’ smirked Anna.
‘Doubt it, I'm no different to everyone else in there,’ Santiago replied pretending he did not notice the sarcasm in her voice. ‘I preach, I pray, and I write sermons which never get a second look.’
‘Well maybe your last one caught someone's eye... Like the conductress’s. I've noticed her glance your way. Do you fancy her Santiago?’ Anna knew fine Santiago only had eyes for her but liked to pretend she was a little jealous from time to time ‘No way, she's huge. She would eat me,’ frowned Santiago.
‘Has she ever come on to you?’ Anna smiled as she put her arms round her clumsy husband.
‘No, never. Where are you getting this from?’ Santiago said, knowing fine his wife was toying with him but enjoying the pretence.
‘I’ve just heard she uses some Junior Ministers for her own end, that’s all.’
Anna kissed Santiago on the cheek and went over to rinse the cloth in the sink.
‘Well I wouldn't go near her. Her breath stinks and she spits when she talks.’
Anna laughed. ‘You couldn't stand that darling, and I know you only have eyes for me. What time are you meeting the Holy Father?’
‘Three O’clock,’ Santiago replied. ‘He has asked me to bring the last Sunday's sermon.’
‘Any idea why?’ asked a perplexed Anna. ‘What was it about?’
Santiago looked at the ceiling and yawningly said. ‘I was just using it to draw comparisons between our life now and what life must have been like pre-unification. I drew on the old stories of how man used to use machines and artificial intelligences to do everything, but in doing so lost touch with himself and Christ. And now similarly, as we push to unite both halves of our world through our Holy War, we need to remember that we do this for Christ and not to suit ourselves or our own ends.’
‘Pretty much like all your other Sermons then,’ Anna giggled.
‘Fuck off!’ laughed Santiago.
‘Seriously, was there anything in it out with the written creed,’ asked a more serious Anna.
‘I don't know, anything that could be interpreted as heresy or seen to undermine the Holy Father. Last thing you want is a penalty or worse.’
‘No it was plain, boring. Just like all my other Sermons,’ Santiago said as he grabbed his satchel and his father’s bible.
‘You will just need to wait and see then,’ Anna said as she kissed her husband goodbye, not knowing it would be the last time she saw him for some time.
The siege of Cartergreen had lasted four days. The defences were now at breaking point and General Devlin knew this. He had been briefed by the key Strongheart Commanders from all quarters. Protocol was clear. All information, maps, codebooks and itineraries had to be destroyed and every man, woman and child that could would now fight to the death.
Cartergreen was a small settlement but key, in many respects, to the on-going campaign. It lay at the foot of a large hill, at the entrance to a long winding valley. This valley had access to many key Christian settlements along the coast of what was, prior to the Meltdown, the West Coast of France. The area was rich in safe, workable un-polluted land; it had clean water and easy access to the sea.
The General had had many reinforcements to defend the area under ‘all cost’ instruction, but his decision making had been flawed and his Muslim opposite number had read him like a book. Cleric Atarn had now secured all main roads into the settlement and had cut off the supply chain. He knew only time stood between him and a superb victory for the Muslims, which would prove crucial in the long term. The up and coming cleansing of the Christian innocent was on his mind, but the rules of this new super war were clear on both sides. ‘No Prisoners Taken Ever’ interrogation was the key and was carried out ‘in battlefield’, and only on special circumstances would a prisoner be returned to the respective Holy City to have the pleasure of meeting a senior interrogator. Indeed, this was known to be the worst fate anyone on both sides could suffer.
The settlement had many hideaway rooms, but most of these would be discovered and their occupants would suffer a swift or not so swift death. It was to one of these rooms that Malachi’s mother was leading him by the hand after the general retreat had been sounded or the ‘run for the hills’ as they commonly called it.
Malachi was twelve years old. He was small for his age but what he lacked in height, he made up for with charm. ‘A rascal’ his mother often called him and this was a perfect description of him. He had a slight frame and blondish hair. A handsome face, which looked older than his years, a look many of the children seemed to have. He excelled at school and had a flair for anything relating to machinery or engineering. This had been picked up by his masters, and he had been due to be sent to a larger group college before the siege had started. His mother wished she had received the notice of this sooner as she knew what was likely to unfold.
‘If dad was here he would have stopped this happening,’ Malachi spurted out breathlessly as his mother dragged him along.
‘Maybe so darling, but he’s not been here for a long time so we just need to get to a safe hideaway as soon as we can,’ his mother replied.
‘There are no safe places and you know it. Toby Carter said when they took Rochelle; they killed everyone, even the babies.’
Malachi’s mother hated young Toby Carter. He was a great grandson of the village founder and a right little pain in the arse.
‘What have I told you about listening to Toby Carter? Has ever a true word come out of that boy’s mouth? No!!’ Malachi’s mother knew that, on this occasion, Toby had spoken the truth for the first time in his life.
They approached a warden and stopped beside him. He was busy trying to make out a crackling short wave radio.
Order............. decision.......... .....uate ............ apply..... ...... destroy
The warden was trying his best to acknowledge the message but appeared to have no idea what he was doing.
‘You need to press the button on the side if you’re speaking Sir,’ advised Malachi.
‘Be quiet Malachi, the warden knows what he’s doing,’ rebuffed his mother.
‘Clearly he doesn’t,’ argued Malachi.
‘Okay son which button do you mean?’ sighed the warden to Malachi, desperation clear in his voice.
Malachi took the bulky radio and showed the warden how to send a signal and how to tune in manually to improve the signal he was receiving.
‘Thanks son, you’re a bright boy. They could do with the likes of you back at headquarters.’
Malachi’s mother interrupted, ‘Can you tell us where the nearest hideaway is?’
The warden paused, looked around then said, ‘the Ostler’s house. Do you know where that is?’
‘Yes,’ both Malachi and his mother replied.
‘Well in the barn next to the huge anvil there is a trap door. That’s your best bet. The Ostler is long dead and his family will be at the Tightbeem square with the rest of the town. Get there fast. I don’t think there is much time. ‘
‘Thanks so much and God bless you,’ Malachi’s mother shouted as she ran off toward the Ostler’s house.
At Tightbeem square, the panic was evident. The ‘run for the hills’ alarm was still sounding as groups of women and children joined together in the hope that someone would have an idea. No one did. The main road into Cartergreen was being bombarded on a scale beyond anything the settlement had witnessed so far. Any defenders had been killed or were long gone as the Muslims slowly incurred.
‘The church!! Run to the church!’ one woman screamed. Another sat on the fountain’s edge and breastfed her baby like nothing was happening.
‘Run you fool! Find a hideaway,’ a warden said to her.
‘But I need to feed my baby,’ replied the shell-shocked woman.
The Muslims lead troops were ruthless. Man, woman or child they encountered was slaughtered without compassion. As had been earth’s history for millennia, the ‘tit for tat’ rules of selfishness and greed had given all the justification needed for this behaviour. ‘It’s for the greater good!!!’
A woman fled from a small house close to the main road, dragging an older woman that may have been her mother. Confused, they ran straight into a group of the settlements assailants and were cut down like animals and kicked into the gutter. As the oncoming forces grew in number, any remaining Christian defendants had vanished or been killed. The first major building to be sacked was the church. The Muslim war machine had a special way to deal with this ‘corrupt’ building and the sheltering men, women, and children within learned of it as the smoke and fire engulfed them.
Malachi and his mother cowered in the small dug out hideaway. They listened and heard the explosions and gunfire advancing.
‘Malachi I want you to promise me something,’ whispered Malachi’s mother. ‘I want you to take any chance to get safe with or without me and I want you to know something about you father.’
‘What about him?’ Malachi replied.
‘He’s not like other men. He’s special. That’s why he’s been gone. He could not go along with all the nonsense that has brought us to this and the authorities would not accept it. He is no longer in the front line,’ admitted his mother.
‘What do you mean? He’s a hero! You told me he was a hero,’ cried Malachi.
‘A hero, of that there is no question. The stories you have been told about the death field are true. He was the only survivor, Christian or Muslim.’
‘Then where is he?’ pleaded Malachi.
‘He’s in prison, held within the Darkland fortress.’
‘No, that’s where traitors and cowards and thieves go. He would never be there,’ Malachi whimpered.
‘Son, you and I would not be here today if he wasn’t. His acceptance of his fate was a trade-off for us.’
A gunshot, followed by laughter, rang in the barn. Malachi could hear a young man pleading for his life and a mother pleading for her son. Two further gunshots silenced them!
‘Search this barn for hideaways then torch it,’ barked whoever was in charge.
Malachi’s mother held her son and put her finger to her mouth, signing him to be silent.
Footsteps above them grew closer, but they remained undetected. Malachi felt around the hideaway and crept under a ledge formed by natural slate. More gunfire sounded as another older man was discovered.
‘Do your worst you devils and may God forgive you,’ were the last words to come out of his mouth before he took his last breath.
‘Look for trap doors you idiots, there’s always trap doors,’ the leader commanded.
Malachi’s mother knew this was it. Malachi sensed what was going to happen and looked at her eyes, wide and filled with tears. She kissed him and whispered, ‘Hide in under this ledge and make no sound.’
Malachi’s mother covered what could be seen of Malachi with an old sack, then stood up and raised the trap door.
‘Wow, a pretty one we have here.’ A monstrous ghoul of a man cried. He ran over and pulled Malachi’s mother out of the hole by the hair and flung her to the ground. Another burly man came over and kicked her in the stomach; she vomited as another tore off her dress. ‘Do we have time for some fun with her commander?’ the monstrous man asked smirking.
The commander walked over towards Malachi’s mother, pointed a pistol at her head and fired.
‘No!’ He replied.
The monster had a quick look in the hideaway but missed Malachi and closed the trap door.
‘On second thoughts don’t torch this building. We can use it for the horses and for our field nurses.’
As it grew dark, Malachi lay still and whimpered. He was in no doubt what fate had become of his mother and with the news about his father his life was turned upside down. Women’s voices now filled the barn, they sounded stern and unhappy. Malachi imagined his father bursting in to save him with scenarios where his mother was alive, anything to keep him from the awful reality of his predicament. As he lay still, he heard a rustle then felt a piercing pain in his foot. He did his best to stifle his cry but was horrified as in the dim light; he could make out a snake in the hideaway with him. It recoiled and went into the corner.
He was trying to settle himself and hide further in when he heard light footsteps approaching the hideaway. The trap door was pulled up slowly and Malachi peeked out to confront a woman’s face looking down. She had a lantern which she shone in revealing the snake and the badly hidden Malachi. ‘Do not move child,’ the woman said kindly. Reaching for a well used set of tongs by the anvil she easily removed the snake. As she walked away with the serpent, Malachi thought he would have to make a run for it but his legs would not move. As the snake venom worked its way through his body, Malachi became rigid.
The woman reappeared. Lifting Malachi from his hideaway, she took him towards a horse drawn, gypsy looking carriage. That was the last thing he remembered.
A day later Malachi came round. He was lying hidden in another hideaway but this time, it was within the nurse’s field hospital carriage. As he opened his eyes he saw the woman who had dealt with the snake.
‘Do not be afraid child. You are safe for now. My name is Misba Ranha. I am a nurse and have treated you for the snakebite. Be assured, if you try to flee, you will be killed. If you call out, you will be killed. If you scream, you will be killed. There are soldiers all around and they will carry out their duty. I beg you to be still and I will try to conceal you. What is your name?’ Misba Ranha moved closer and offered a glass with water to Malachi.
‘My name is Malachi. Your animal soldiers just killed my mother, I hate you all,’ Malachi turned and knocked the glass from her hand.
‘And you think the women and children of my Muslim villages are spared such a fate? Your mother would want you to survive. Don’t be a fool child, drink when I tell you to.’ Malachi felt for the glass, Misba Ranha refilled it and returned.
‘You know my father will rescue me and you will all pay,’ Malachi spurted out after gulping the water.
‘Young Malachi, if your father was in this settlement he has suffered the same fate as your mother. You need to move on and think of your own survival,’ Misba Ranha said gently.
‘He wasn’t in this village. He’s a brave soldier on the front line and he will come for me. He’s a hero.’ Malachi knew this was a lie, but he had to grasp at something.
‘A hero,’ smiled Misba Ranha, ‘that’s very good. I think the world could do with some heroes don’t you?’
‘Don’t laugh at me. He is a hero. He was the only man who survived the battle at the Deathfield,’ Malachi boasted.
Misba Ranha’s voice changed when she asked ‘Young Malachi you mention the death field. What is your father’s name?’
Malachi replied, ‘his name is Cole!’
Misba Ranha’s face dropped, she turned and closed the hatch to Malachi’s hideaway.
New Mecca: Prime Cleric.
Six Tightbeem Aid to the Chosen Services a day was taking its toll on the Prime Cleric. He was in his fifteenth year as Muslim Prime and felt he was running out of ways to disseminate the word of Mohammad and the New Prophets. Inspiration was his job. ‘Inspiration of the mind, inspiration of the soul, and inspiration of the heart.’ This was how his father, the serving prime at the time, had tried to explain his role as he handed over the baton of being the serving head of over three billion Muslims.
Since the Meltdown as they called it, a free scholar family with a direct ancient lineage had been chosen to play this part. Saladin, the present prime, could trace his family line back to the 18th century and was known to have one of the only pure, uncorrupted gene lines on earth. Saladin’s father had reigned over a very successful time for the Muslim cause and he was finding it a hard act to follow. News of various recent victories had lifted his spirits and his final Tightbeem of the day had certainly been his best. He felt at long last he may be coming to the ‘Juncture’. This point in time had been predicted hundreds of years earlier and would be the epiphany of the new Muslim world.
The Juncture or ‘tipping point’, as the masses referred to it, would be a point of no return for the Christians. Using a combination of science and pseudo-science, Scholars had theorised that eventually -through faith, endeavour, and the will of Allah- there would come a point where no matter what line Christian armies pursued, they would be unable to recover sufficient ground to make a difference. It would be like closing out a one sided game of chess. Through meditation prayer and planning, the Prime Cleric was mentally preparing for this time and his key military advisors were indicating to him that the time was close.
Since the inexplicable battle at the ‘Deathfield’, both sides had been desperate to make the first positive step forward. A truce had been ordered and agreed on both sides after a private Tightbeem conversation between the Prime Cleric and Pope Julias. Julias had offered no explanation to the events that had taken place that day and the Prime Cleric could offer no direction on this matter either.
The simultaneous slaughter and mutilation of between two and three thousand Muslim front line assailants and the same on the Christian side would remain a mystery. Those first to visit the site of the slaughter told tales of bodies skewered together, forming gruesome double helical towers, rising from pools of dried blood and severed heads. Hundreds of these columns rose from the ground and of those who witnessed this horror, many remained dumbstruck. There was not one Muslim survivor, but Saladin’s senior advisors said there were rumours a Christian soldier had survived. Further information revealed the man was a drunkard and his magical explanations made no sense.
Julias had given Saladin his word that he would maintain the truce for thirty days and on this occasion his word had been true. Saladin’s advisors suggested to the Prime that Julias’ eagerness for the truce was down to necessity rather than empathy and as the rest of the year’s campaign unfolded, he was beginning to think this was true. Saladin was not like Julias at all. Both were leaders of millions, but they both had very different hearts. Saladin dreamed of the days after the Juncture when the cleansing of innocents could stop and, through teaching and prayer, the world could eventually unite as one. On the other hand, Pope Julias had said to him on more than one occasion that he would not rest until every Muslim soldier was taken care of.
Saladin sat in his private enclave and prepared for his meditation. He found great peace during these moments and was always invigorated afterwards. As he began to submerge and be subsumed by his faith, he sensed that he was being watched. He opened his eyes and was struck dumb by what he saw; a round-faced Asian girl in her twenties stared at him from the corner of the room. She was dressed in shorts and a tee shirt, and her smiling face had an avian quality to it. As the prime bowed his head to pray for the girl, as her fate was sealed by her very presence, she spoke.
‘Prime Cleric you’re looking well today! Sorry to just appear like this. My name is Maria.’
The Prime Cleric looked over at her. ‘Woman, you know the consequence of your presence here. What insanity has overtaken you to bring you here? No woman has entered this palace for hundreds of years!’
‘Well, all the more poignant my presence here should be for you Saladin,’ Maria smiled in reply.
‘How did you manage this woman? You must have been very well disguised, or are you in the service of Basset.’
‘I know not of your ‘Basset’ Prime Cleric, and my presence here is not to alarm you or bring you ill will. There is much I need to discuss with you but first, you must accept my presence here and believe me when I say to you, I needed no door to gain entry.’ Maria walked over to the door and attempted to open it showing it was still in the locked position.
‘What are you trying to say? What did you say your name was again?’ asked Saladin as he rose to approach her.
‘My Name is Maria; I guess you could say I am an envoy. As we speak, my friend is having the same conversation in the new Vatican with Pope Julias but I sense things are not going to plan there,’ smirked Maria.
‘Are you an assassin Maria,’ an unflustered Saladin asked, ‘do you come here with a death wish? Surely you know even your garb will bring about an ignominious end for you! How many have seen you enter here?’
‘No one has seen me enter Saladin and I can leave undiscovered at my own will. The question I have is, do you wish me to leave or are you curious to find out the reason for my presence? I chose this time to come here as I knew our privacy would be guaranteed.’ Maria approached Saladin with her arms wide, ‘Saladin, I know you are different from your father. I know of the unusual presence that surrounds the depth of your meditation. Will you let me say my piece?’ pleaded Maria.no
‘Maria, Maria, Maria!’ Saladin looked to the roof as he pleaded, ‘You have dealt me a poor hand. You know I would be in violation of everything that I stand for if I do not summon my guards right now.’
Maria gestured her hand towards the door and said, ‘Prime Cleric if you feel that is what you want then I will open the door for you. I, however, would prefer for you to sit down and I will make us some tea,’ Maria smiled at the Prime Cleric but held one hand pointing to the door and with the other she made a sipping tea from a cup gesture. ‘What’s it to be?’
Saladin knew his curiosity would be his better and replied. ‘Okay! You have my attention - if only for a short while.’
Darkland Fortress: Cole.
From space, few things remained visible on what remained of a devastated earth. Parts of the Great Wall in China could be seen, though the continent of Asia was all but uninhabitable. You could play ‘join the dots’ with numerous craters, which were not caused by meteors but by playing nuclear ping pong. A large part of the giant world metropolis ‘Sappho’ was still visible but this was also contaminated. Un-missable from orbit was the Darkland strip and like the dot on an ‘I’, the Darkland Fortress stood at its head. Since the Meltdown few people could accurately relate the actual size of the strip, except for the few scholars who spent their lives in its study. At the maximum, its width was over two hundred miles and at its longest was over six hundred.
From orbit, the area shimmered like a fish in the sea as the DNA wall that was its perimeter bent and curved to envelop the undulating land. The Darkland Fortress, which stood proudly at its head, had once been a hotel which catered for rich thrill seekers from all corners of the globe. Daily, thousands would arrive and often reside for several years waiting for their slot. During this time, they would train with Darkland veterans spending months learning about which weaponised, adapted mechanimal they would be encountering. Their own bodies would also be adapted receiving motorised impenetrable exoskeleton which incorporated the latest micro and neuro technology, allowing them to call on satellite imaging and enable direct downloads from their allocated transit station. The whole endeavour was a multi trillion pound venture. Within the boundaries of the hotel there were laboratories and cloning stations run by the finest minds on the planet.
The art of mech grafting was refined here over the course of a generation. Initially, animal DNA was cloned and grafted with intelligent materials, then shaped and coded to form the desired killing machine. The early attempts, though looking formidable, proved incompetent so the method of advanced DNA proxy evolution was introduced. This involved the manipulation of individual strands of DNA, each ones evolutionary potential mapped and categorised. At first it took several hours to map a single strand which made the processing time consuming and laborious, but eventually this task was assumed by AIs and the development increased exponentially.
Eventually the Darkland held all manner of fantastical beasts all of which were adapted to provide superior armour and all manner of mech grafted self-replicating weapon systems. The Darkland was advertised as ‘Hell IS a place on Earth’ and, apart from the lack of fire and brimstone, the Darkland slogan was appropriate. Along its perimeter no fence was needed to prevent access or egress as DNA compatibility would allow entry and exit within certain controlled time periods, these chosen and controlled by the ‘dysfunctionists’ whose very DNA had been altered to accommodate the Darkland AI interface. This kept the monsters in, and the not so wealthy thrill seekers out, as attempting to cross between the gruesomely carved perimeters markers would render any life form catatonic.
After the Meltdown the hotel was abandoned and the technology ground to a halt. When the need for prisoner and citizen containment became necessary the Christian hierarchy moved back in and modified the massive building to suit its own needs. Rooms were split to become cells, parks became exercise yards and viewing towers became watchtowers. As almost the entire fortress was surrounded by the Darkland strip, only one way in or out was required and this was heavily guarded. The addition of a series of new checkpoints along this path made the fortress inescapable.
Over the years many inmates had attempted to run through the DNA wall whilst on exercise but everyone had suffered the same fate; losing their consciousness and command of their bodily functions.
In holding cell 2022 Cole held a burly man by the neck against the cell door with one hand whilst ramming another’s head, he was holding by the hair, against the metal locker that stood to the side. ‘Listen, you pair of weasels, I warned you not to interfere with me!’ Cole spoke with calmness as the two brigands gasped.
‘We didn’t realise mucker, we thought you were easy,’ the brigand being held bent double gasped out and at this Cole smashed his head into the locker so the door caved inwards jamming his head within. Blood ran out onto the cell floor. Cole, now with both hands free, engulfed the man at the door’s head at either side and pushed together like a vice.
‘Easy you say? I mind my manners and my own business so I’m easy? Does this feel easy? ‘Cole’s calm voice began to contain an element of agitation. ‘You pair of Lizards prey on the weak and have no honour,’ the man’s eyes began to roll in his head as a drop of blood dripped from his nose.
‘Tell me when this stops feeling easy for you. Is it easy now? Now!’ Cole compressed his hands further and the man’s skull cracked like an egg.
Cole stood back as the man slumped to the floor then washed his hands in the small sink and lay down on his bunk. The two brigands had been transferred in with him the night before and after their initial threats and tirade about Cole’s protection he had nodded along with them and then went off to sleep. He awoke in the morning and gave the pair of brigands their early morning alarm call. The hatch in Cole’s cell opened shortly after.
‘Fuck Cole what’ve you done now?’ said the guard as he raised the alarm. Cole remained on his bed and did not reply. Eventually a team of guards pushed in past the body at the door.
‘Are you going to give us any trouble? We are not in the mood for any more of your crap today,’ said McCoy the lead guardsmen knowing full well Cole would comply.
‘I’m good, no trouble from me McCoy, do you wish me to follow you sir? You know you are wasting your time with the restraints,’ Cole raised his hands to allow himself to be cuffed.
‘Sorry it’s procedure,’ McCoy said as he clipped the manacles together. This was not the first time McCoy had had dealings with Cole and they had developed a mutual respect for one another.
The volume in the secure wing increased as Cole was led in between the guards along to the punishment zone. Prisoners screamed from their cells,
‘Fuck you Cole not so tough now!’
‘Hope they fucking fry you, you freak!’
‘Bout time you got that freakshow out of here!’
Cole was impervious to their taunts and shuffled along. He was average in height, but barrel chested, which made his arms stick out when he walked like he was carrying a bag of grain under each. His hair was long and straggly and he had a pointy chin at the foot of a worn out tired face that had seen many troubles in its day. As they approached the punishment zone a final taunt from a prisoner made Cole stop in his tracks.
‘Hey Cole! Heard the Muslims made a real mess in Cartergreen. Rounded them all up and had a nice fire in the church.’
Cole paused for a second and McCoy saw an unfamiliar look on his face, then he continued on his way to the punishment zone. After being stripped, Cole was ushered into the holding area, McCoy saw his moment and spoke to him. ‘I saw the look on your face back there. Is there going to be trouble?’
‘McCoy you have been fair with me. Don’t be working anywhere around me tomorrow. I’m leaving.’
McCoy gave Cole a sad look and shook his head as Cole went over and sat on the cold metal bench that would be his bed for the night.
Himalayas ‘Half Realm’: Vaughan.
Vaughan slept like a log ten miles in the air above the Himalayas in an Infinity created ‘Half Realm’. As far as he could tell, he had taken human form identical to his previous incarnation shortly before his death. Vaughan only had fleeting memories of his most recent attempt at a flesh and bone life and most of these formed a young woman’s face and a barn. He had romantic ideas that she was his lover and soul mate, but the face in his memories was the face of a passer-by who had tried to revive him after his heart had stopped beating.
This was the way of it for all of the eight billion conscious life forces that had inhabited earth since the dawn of man, either in the physical realm or in the ether. Each life force would have only a slight memory of its final moment in the physical realm and few others. There was no karma involved in this process, good or bad, life forces would take their opportunity of another life when the chance arose and a life force that was unspeakably cruel in one lifetime, could be angelic in the next.
The behaviour during physicality was dictated by epigenetics and the life force had little control over this. At any one time, over two billion life forces would be in a non-physical state, half dwelling in earth’s reality, and half at the edge of the void, whilst the other six billion inhabited the bodies of every other man, woman and child on earth. These homeless life forces would naturally congregate on and around the highest place on the planet so the ‘Half Realm’ was created there.
Immediately, Vaughan knew this manifestation was different. An instant later, he was familiar with his new surroundings and of the technical workings of this ‘Half Realm’ even though he understood its creation was instantaneous and recent. It was almost as if its architects had downloaded its drawings and schematics directly into his conscious mind. Simply, it was a massive holding area joining two planes of reality. However, the reality out with earth, that previously, during non-physicality Vaughan had considered to be the void, was now evidently so much more than that.
Vaughan now knew of the reason for its existence and he gradually understood the complexity of the entities that had created it. As he opened his eyes, his mind opened too and everything was clear to Vaughan. He knew of his new purpose, of the danger he faced, and he also now knew he could call on every memory of every lifetime he’d had if he chose to. Next, it became clear his latest existence would not be starting in a birth canal, but as a man in his late twenties and from this point onward, he knew his epigenetic gene environment matrix had been tailored to suit his mission. He wondered at his new form and its potential. He absorbed everything now like a sponge and he spoke for the first time to the entities.
‘What can I call you?’
We are The Affinity
You are everything to us
At that, Vaughan’s mind was subsumed by the entities and everything made sense. He rose from the bed and as he stretched his legs, he saw the girl he now knew as Maria rising from the bed beside him. He walked over to her and as they embraced, he knew that this was the woman he had shared many lives with. He would not call her his soul mate; she was more like the missing part of his soul, the final piece in Vaughan’s jigsaw. They kissed once, held hands, their minds joined and each mind fuelled the other. A link between them was created and they no longer need to speak to communicate. DNA codex potential strands within them that had evolved millions of years in the future provided them with this new ability and many others. They both had a bio arsenal at their disposal and technical expertise beyond anything ever seen on earth, even before the meltdown. It was time to go. Vaughan closed his eyes and willed himself to the place on earth he knew he must be, instantly he appeared in the New Vatican for his lunch date with Pope Julias.
‘Holiest Father, My name is Vaughan.’ Vaughan confidently walked over to the sitting Pope Julias and leaned on his large desk. Pope Julias was still dumbstruck at the sudden appearance and a smiling Vaughan continued. ‘May I have a minute of your time?’’
Julias reached under his desk and sounded his personal alarm before Vaughan could stop him or say another word.
‘Pope Julias, I was hoping we could talk some before you did that. Are you not curious as to my ‘Christ like’ appearance?’
‘Do not speak Christ’s name demon! I have been warned of your arrival and will not be drawn in by your attempts to undermine me and my church.’ At this, Pope Julias stood up abruptly and walked backwards into the corner holding his cross and muttering towards Vaughan.
‘Really? A demon? Holiest Father I promise you I’m as real as you are,’ said Vaughan holding out his hand to Pope Julias. Julias recoiled and held out his cross ‘Though I walk in the valley in the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.’
‘You’ve got to be kidding me, ‘laughed Vaughan. ‘Pope Julias, trust me when I say to you this is your first chance to hear me out and make a bigger difference to your flock than any Pope in history. Do not waste it.’
The sound of running in the outside corridor let Vaughan know his lunch date was over. He could leave now as he had arrived or await the Vatican guard. He chose the latter and sat down on the end of Pope Julias’ desk as the guards burst in. Holding pistols, the guards formed a neat line in front of him and ordered Vaughan to his knees.
‘Holiest Father, are you okay?’ said the man in command.
‘Yes my son. This demon held no threat to me, but close your ears to his fabrications. Escort him immediately to a jail cell and fetch me Meniux.’ At this, a burly guard stepped forward and prepared himself to strike Vaughan on the face with his pistol. Vaughan thought this over and decided to slow things down a bit. He had been absorbing every detail of his surroundings since his arrival and now he was at one with it.
Every atom in the room was now his to command to the quantum level. Vaughan isolated the groups of atoms that were attempting to assault him and ground them to a halt. He swithered whether or not to allow Pope Julias to witness this, but decided to stop him, if for no other reason than to stop his tedious demon chat. Pope Julias and the guards now stood like mannequins at a museum. Vaughan rose and walked round to Julias’s big desk; he took his ornate quill from its inkpot and wrote a short note. He folded the note and put it in Julias’ pocket.
After some deliberation, Vaughan decided not to leave as quickly as he had arrived, but realised his best path would be to remain inside the Vatican for the time being. Rather than doing anything that would appear miraculous Vaughan decided to take one for the team and knelt down where he had been previously, released his atomic proximity control, and allowed himself to be struck with the pistol and knocked unconscious.