This Chapter follows on directly from the last chapter of "Fidel".
1: Far North Queensland in a Few Years Time.
'Make sure there's nothing left to salvage, or tomorrow there'll be nothing left of you.' The priest's twisted smile, more venomous than his customary frown, underlined the threat. Ignoring the nervous nods of his sweating acolytes, he turned, raised an imperial finger in warning and waddled back to his limousine, slashing the air with his stick to ward off mute offers of assistance from heavily armed bodyguards.
After passing silently through the gates, the black car stopped to allow the priest to gaze back through tinted windows. Impassive, he watched as the splendid old buildings exploded in a gigantic fireball that briefly rivalled the sun. This wasn't the first such establishment he'd had the pleasure of demolishing, and wouldn't be the last. Releasing a wheezy sigh of satisfaction he nodded slightly and chewed thoughtfully on his bottom lip. There were few pleasures to match erasing the stench of blasphemy, nonconformist freethinking tolerance, and secretive research by ungodly intellectuals bent on disrupting God's plans. He tapped on the bulletproof glass and the chauffeur drove smoothly away, leaving the once grand edifice's executioners to ensure all had been destroyed.
Having poked at ashes and embers long enough to ensure nothing useful remained, the demolition team drove noisily away in three small black trucks bearing the same gold logo of intertwined crosses as on the doors of the priest's limo.
* * *
Twenty kilometres inland, two elderly men were relaxing on the verandah of a house nestled in the surrounding rainforest. The leaner and taller snapped his phone shut with a sigh.
'That was Arnold. The Research Institute is no more, but he and Fidel managed to collect their gear and escape unharmed. Brother Dominic in on his way, so we have another fifteen minutes.'
'Fifteen minutes. You say it as if it were a lifetime, Sebastian.' Jarek's sigh was even deeper than his friend's. 'I know we've been expecting it, but it's still a shock to know the party's finally over.'
'It's not over till we've given the fat priest the welcome he deserves.'
'I wish I was fifty years younger.' Jarek levered himself to his feet, opened a concealed panel in the wall and pressed a switch that triggered lasers to reflect off multiple mirrors, creating tiny pinpoints of light at strategic locations throughout the forest. 'We may not be much use, but at least the Men will be ready.' He turned and leaned against the railing, staring thoughtfully along the driveway, mentally preparing himself for their unwelcome visitor.
Sebastian stood beside him. 'The mad monk's done us a favour-saved us having to close the place ourselves.' He sighed again. 'It feels odd knowing I'll never see the building again. That's where I found my father. Then when I lost Reggie and thought my life was over, you turned up. And since then every moment has been the best possible.' He grunted a short laugh. 'It's strange that memories of so long ago are as clear or clearer than those of last week.'
Jarek nodded and smiled softly. 'I can't believe we're both so old! If I don't look in a mirror my head still thinks I'm a young man.'
'We are young! Sagging skin's just a clever disguise.'
'If only. Did Arnold say if Lindoro was Okay?'
'Yes, He's fine. I got the impression Arnold was lucky. The demolition guys arrived early. I dread to think what would have happened if that fat priest got his hands on him!'
'It doesn't bear thinking about.'
They lapsed into companionable silence.
'It's all over then.' Jarek peered into the rainforest as if searching for something, then shrugged and raised his eyes to the massive western escarpment several kilometres away that seemed to float above the treetops. Large birds wheeled in thermals and dense clouds accumulated beyond the towering cliffs. He sniffed the air. The storm wouldn't arrive till evening. Meanwhile a pitiless sun rendered outside activities dangerous. The oppressive heat infected his mood. 'I can hardly bear to leave. This wonderful house you built; the memories, the work, the fun. I'm glad no one will live here after us-it would be sacrilege.'
'Coming from an atheist, them's powerful words.'
'You know what I mean. Are you sorry to be leaving?'
'Not if I think about it rationally. We've had an excellent life. I'm not greedy, and politically we know it's impossible. My brain wouldn't mind hanging on for a bit, but my body and common sense tells me to get out while we can.'
Arms linked they wandered indoors to the relative cool of the lounge.
'Things are going to get a hell of a lot messier for everyone before they get better - if they ever do, so I we're quitting at the right time.'
'Yes. We'll deal with Dominic, bid farewell to the guys, and...'
'You think they'll survive?'
A car horn gave three sharp blasts.
'We have visitors.'
They watched through the window as a large black car crunched over the gravel and parked directly in front of the house. Two guards in glistening black leather sprang from the rear doors and crouched each side of the car, assault rifles at the ready, heads and eyes flicking from side to side, noses thrust forward as if to smell danger. When satisfied it was safe, one crossed to the verandah, tapped on the wall with his rifle and shouted, 'Everyone outside! Now!' underlining his order by firing a volley into the air through the verandah roof, startling a flock of kookaburras into maniacal laughter as they flew off.
Jarek and Sebastian wandered out, hands in the air. The driver patted them down, told them to keep their hands on their heads and wait in the centre of the driveway. The sun was searing and they began to sweat while he made a thorough search of the house. Eventually he returned and signalled to the car. A fat man in black emerged, shuffled to the verandah, hoisted himself with visible effort up the steps onto the deck and sank into the largest of the rattan armchairs. A casual flick of fingers summoned the two elderly men who stood in front of him; faces devoid of expression.
'We meet again. Two old fools who thought they could play God. You're both so scrawny you look as if you've endured a famine.'
'While you look as if you caused it.'
'Touché.' The fat man's lips drew back in a humourless smile. 'OK, where are they?'
'The mutants you've been breeding.'
'We haven't been breeding anything; we're too old and neither of us have ovaries.'
Brother Dominic leaned forward and slashed at Sebastian with a whip he had concealed in his surplice, nicking him on the cheek, drawing a trickle of blood.
'Before disposing of that charnel house of yours, I had a chat with a young man who, after a little persuasion, told me everything. Arnold I think he said his name was. Unfortunately, having no lips made him difficult to understand, so I thought I'd visit you to clarify a few details.'
The elderly men's faces remained impassive as Jarek said clearly, 'Monk, you are a fat, fucking bastard.'
'My vows of celibacy preclude fucking, and both my parents were married.'
'What about your gentle Jesus meek and mild Christian vows? Don't they preclude the use of torture?'
'He who sees evil and does nothing is also evil. One of my multitude of burdens is to rid the world of evil. According to what that unfortunate individual told us, you've been playing God.'
'We wouldn't contemplate emulating the incompetent, vengeful, vain, infantile figment of your imagination you call god. According to your beliefs he designed and made you. We, on the other hand, have brought into this world creatures of wisdom, sensitivity, grace and beauty-as unlike you as it is possible to imagine!'
The fat priest smiled; he'd angered them. 'Your passion is commendable and increases my curiosity. Arnold was only able to give me a vague idea of what's been going on before he gave up the ghost.' Brother Dominic's phlegm-filled chuckle failed to elicit the response he desired so he continued in placatory tones. 'If you tell me everything, and convince me that the results of your work do not pose a threat to the State, there's no reason not to let your protégés live.'
The old men remained silent.
'Be reasonable,' Dominic cajoled, 'you've nothing to lose and everything to gain.'
Jarek and Sebastian looked at each other, shrugged, and nodded.
'Can we sit down?'
'Of course. Of course.' The old men sat, thought for a bit, exchanged glances and wry smiles, then nodded acceptance.
'It's a long story,' Sebastian cautioned.
'I've an hour to kill.'
'A foolish expression.' Sebastian sniffed his distaste and cleared his throat. 'Over half a century ago, instead of closing the School because of falling rolls, my parents decided to use the facilities for research into social change. Philosophical and practical solutions to the abundance of problems facing humanity were solicited from all over the globe. Millions of responses were computer crunched, analysed, sorted into ideas and mulled over by the philosophers, scientists and medical personnel who had become interested in our project, and joined the institute. It soon became clear that because human problems stem from the way humans think, we can't expect to think our way out of problems our thinking has created. So we adjusted the question and ran it through the computers again. The solution at first surprised, then after consideration made sense. We would have to eliminate some things that once ensured survival, but are now destroying us along with the environment in which we evolved.'
'And what did your computer suggest you eliminate?' Dominic's sneer irritated, as he intended.
Sebastian smiled equably. 'Two genders, and brains that can be taught in infancy to believe nonsense, despite evidence to the contrary, simply because the person wants to believe it.'
'Things like believing there's an invisible, omnipotent, omniscient superman in the sky, or that democracy will ensure good government. That sort of thing.' Jarek replied, face a picture of innocence.
'And you want to eliminate sex?'
'No-merely the duality.'
'Quit the smart-arse act. Cut to the chase! What are you talking about?
'It's obvious that the qualities of both sexes are essential, but having two different genders is an evolutionary compromise. It worked in other animals, but in humans is a recipe for conflict because of our tendency to see ourselves as individuals rather than part of a pair or group. The different desires and expectations of males and females cause conflict.'
'What different desires?' the priest interrupted.
'Males are usually content with a simple life as long as they feel useful. Left alone we would still be relaxing in the Garden of Eden. Females, in order to ensure the safety of themselves and their offspring, drive change by demanding ever more impressive evidence of their partner's ability, demonstrated by the Adam and Eve story in your bible.'
'So humans are in a constant struggle to get more and more, bigger and better, regardless of whether it is useful or essential for survival. We swapped paradise for a work camp. Instead of remaining in the natural state in which we evolved like all other animals who only do what is essential for their survival, leaving the planet fresh, clean, and able to provide in abundance, we've become slaves to our unquenchable desires.'
'What rubbish! Our ancestors could have remained in a state of nature if they'd wanted.'
'I disagree, because humans don't have a cut-off switch. They aren't able to say, I've got enough now so I'll stop for a while. Once the climate stabilised about ten thousand years ago, men's problem-solving brains allowed them to breed more and indulge their insatiable desire to impress and provide for the desires of their spouses through agriculture instead of hunting and gathering. This led to permanent settlement in towns and cities, industry, commerce and wars to increase wealth and prestige. Increased food security and later medical interventions meant more children survived until more than ten thousand million people now eke out an existence in a death struggle for survival on a tiny planet that our evolutionary impulses have rendered virtually uninhabitable.'
'If the characteristics you describe are indeed human nature, then I'm living a natural life.'
'Sadly true. You're a living example of how humankind's natural behaviour contains the seeds of our extinction. Your insatiable desires have led you to excess in everything. You've become the most powerful person, the most feared, the most cruel and hated. You're a vile, obese monster whose selfishness and unconcern for others knows no bounds. You're the result of ten thousand years of civilization in which men grabbed, killed, conquered, made slaves, built empires, multinational conglomerates... and so altered the planet that it's no longer a benign environment for most living organisms.'
'Only ten thousand years?'
'That surprised you, didn't it? For the first two or three hundred thousand years of human existence, Earth's weather was too unstable to allow civilization to develop, and humans remained as they evolved; hunter gatherers living in precarious balance with nature like all other animals.'
'It's human ingenuity that enabled you to do your research. You're no better than the people you criticise. Where do you get these stupid ideas?'
'They're far from stupid. There have always been a few humans throughout history with the ability to observe the world objectively, think about what they see, and by understanding how nature works, suggest ways to live well without destroying everything. But they've never been able to permanently influence human behaviour. Instead of facing facts, the overwhelming majority of humans are like you, believing what they want to believe instead of the truth, because of childhood conditioning and ubiquitous propaganda. So now we're living with the result-a filthy, degraded, overpopulated, overheated planet and the imminent collapse of civilization, which very few humans will survive.'
'What a Jeremiad! The sky's falling in! Civilization is collapsing! Rubbish! There's no limit to human resourcefulness; civilization is far from over!'
'Half the city that used to be down the hill from here, is either under water or a suppurating, lethal swamp.'
'Which begs the question, why haven't you offered sanctuary to refugees?'
'Our forest has been designated a sanctuary for displaced non-human animals.'
'That will change! Surely you don't consider animals as important as humans?'
'More important than the current crop of humans, which is why we embarked on our research.'
'Ah yes, your creation of a superior breed of human. You were about to tell me what your computer advised.'
'In essence, it said we should do nothing and let nature solve the problem by allowing most humans to die, leaving a few to revert to the prehistoric state. If they didn't die out, in another million years or so there was one chance in a billion that they would evolve into a species able to live with nature instead of fighting it. In other words, they'd just repeat the mistakes of the past. That gave us the idea of shoving evolution along by tweaking a few genes and creating a race of humanoids different enough from us to survive and flourish in a future of wildly unstable weather.'
'You decided to play God.'
'Are you a creationist?'
'Unless you're a masochist I suggest you stop wasting my time. What did you do?'
'The entire human genome's been mapped, so it wasn't difficult to modify both behaviour and physical attributes.'
'Physical attributes. You mean you...?'
'Yes we made an androgyne.'
'The default state of a human foetus is female. At various stages throughout pregnancy the embryo's xx or xy chromosomes cause the mother to release hormones that trigger changes in the way its body develops. If the foetus is destined to become a male, doses of hormones at specific times cause what could be ovaries to descend and become testicles, and the clitoris to lengthen and curl into a tube, which then conducts urine, and by a complex arrangement of finer tubes, sperm. Other doses of hormones remain dormant till puberty when they trigger the growth of breasts and the menstrual cycle in females, and such things as enlargement of the voice-box, hair growth, and, in both genders, the way they perceive the opposite sex.
'Errors can and do occur. For example, in about ten percent of the population an insufficient or poorly timed release of hormone affecting the potential adult male's perception of females will result in an otherwise perfectly normal male reverting to the default state, seeing males as sexually arousing. What your religion still hasn't accepted is that a person's sexual identity is hard-wired in the womb, and there's no way they can change it, any more than they can change the colour of their eyes.'
'No, it's just the way it is.'
'Where did you get the foetuses? Whose eggs and sperm? Surely the donors didn't want you to experiment on their offspring?'
'We developed an artificial womb capable of growing a genetically modified foetus and administering the required doses of hormones to create exactly the result we desired. The first spermatozoa and eggs were donated by my father and stepmother. Both were the finest people I've ever known and fully supportive of the program. Importantly, both come from exceptionally hardy ethnic stock-Australian Aborigine and Melanesian.'
'You're not black!'
'Half. My mother was a European of the most vile sort, which is why I would never contemplate using my sperm.' Sebastian turned to Jarek. 'Can you finish this off?'
Jarek took Sebastian's hand, smiled and looked the fat priest in the eye, daring him to comment. 'There's not much more to tell. We succeeded in breeding a race of hermaphrodites who, while looking exactly like perfect human males, have a womb with ovaries as well as functioning testicles. The womb opens into a vulva in the usual place for females, the penis still serves as a conduit for both urine and sperm, and the pelvis is modified to allow easy birth.'
'Why choose the male body? Personal preference.'
'Pragmatism. Males can move faster, are stronger and more flexible, have greater endurance, and higher tolerance to pain. In all other respects our New Men are balanced individuals who exhibit the best characteristics of both genders.'
'How many of these... these monsters have you created?'
'They're not monsters, they're quiet, intelligent, charming, thoughtful people who know how to live in harmony with their environment. They are also well equipped to defend themselves against the stupidity and ignorance of people like you. Our tinkering with genes has worked better than we hoped. The tension that normally exists between the two halves of a human couple has been eliminated. They are Aristotle's complete man.'
'I asked how many!' Brother Dominic snapped nastily.'
Jarek wasn't intimidated. 'Enough to ensure their survival,' he said with a slight smile.
'All you've done is create a gang of queers who'll be fucking and screwing and murdering each other in jealous rage. Ha! Live in harmony? I've never met a single queer who even understood the meaning of harmony, let alone lived it.'
'Yes you have.'
'You're looking at them.'
Brother Dominic stared at his two opponents in silent fury.
'As for screwing each other, they may, but not for the reasons women get men to fuck them. They're able to self fertilise as well as cross with other New Men, but will only conceive if the conditions for raising a child are perfect. As there can be no sexual tension within individuals, relationships with others are for friendship, and sexual congress becomes no different from sharing any other activity.'
'How can you be sure of that?'
'We've been monitoring them for the last fifty years.'
'If they fertilise themselves, that's inbreeding-a recipe for idiocy. There'll soon be a gaggle of idiot clones cluttering the planet.'
'Wrong again. It's line breeding, as practiced by all pedigree breeders. If you start with excellent stock there's seldom a problem. If the occasional child turns out imperfect, then it will be killed at birth. And they're not clones of anyone, they're the product of sperm and eggs from different donors. You are thinking of siblings; the progeny of the same parents. They're usually only slightly similar to each other because at each conception the egg and sperm genes mix in a different way; the possible number of permutations are enormous. Idiocy only occurs when similar faulty genes from both siblings fuse at conception. Not possible with NewMen, because they have no faulty genes. Furthermore, over the years we've been able to secure twenty other superbly suitable egg and sperm donors, so the gene pool is more than sufficient to keep the race healthy.'
'How long do they live?'
'No idea, no one has died yet. They don't age because we eliminated the design fault the rest of us have-the telomere that loses bits so that after half a century or less our DNA forgets how to repair organs properly, and so we age. Not suffering the debility of ageing means they won't need care as they get older.'
The priest sat staring at his clasped hands for several minutes, then looked up. 'Why did you do this?'
'Because the idea of a sentient, rational, reasonable, sensible, self-aware creature that bases its life on observable facts, not wishful thinking, is too beautiful to let go. We hope they will somehow be able to counter the destruction of Homo sapiens. All religious texts, including your bible, admit that humans are fallible-born in sin your bible says. Yet no religious or political leader has ever asked humans to behave differently and live within their means and leave the planet biologically richer and better able to support life than they found it. Nor does your holy book preach that more than enough is too much. Instead, humans have continued to demand unsustainable profits.'
'A race of rabid individualists.' Dominic sneered.'
'Of course, because only independent individuals value themselves and others. Societies and relationships based on dominance and servitude can never be happy, productive or stable.'
'What about values?'
'All wise men not infected by religious dogma have advocated kindness, generosity, consideration, affection, honesty, hospitality, compassion, charity, humour, gentleness, equality, listening, egalitarianism, love of children and diligent respect for the land, plants and animals. These are sensible behaviours owing nothing to imaginary gods, and our Homo novus appear to embody these virtues.'
'I want to see one of these paragons of virtue.'
'We thought you would, so we asked Primo to stand by.'
'Primo... I suppose he was the first?'
'The first successful New Man, yes. ' Sebastian turned towards the house and called softly, 'Brother Dominic would like to see you, Primo'.
A slim young man appeared in the doorway, where he stood and stared speculatively at the visitor. He was of average height, devoid of both fat and hair, well but not heavily muscled, with all the usual male sexual apparatus. Totally at ease, he emanated calm self-control.
'The man who organised the destruction of our laboratories and tortured and murdered Arnold, would like to meet you.' Sebastian's voice was unnaturally harsh.
Dominic gazed from Sebastian to Primo and back. 'I can see the resemblance-how remarkable. He is much darker than you, and more symmetrical, but despite your age difference there is something of you. How old is he?'
Primo's voice was low and soft, yet uncannily penetrating. 'If you wish to know anything about me, ask me.'
Visibly taken aback, Dominic uttered a surly grunt and repeated his question.
'But you look…'
'That has already been explained to you.'
'Why are you naked?'
'Why should I wear clothes if I don't need them?'
'Will you show me your other genitals?'
'If you ask.'
'You aren't shy then?'
'Of what should I be shy? They're perfectly healthy, clean and normal. Are you ashamed of yours?'
'Then show them to me.'
'No way! They're private.'
'That's a relief. Your body is physically repellent and I imagine your genitals are no better. I have no desire to see them; just thought I'd see if you were truthful. Now I know you're not, I shall modify my behaviour. Well? Do you want to see between my legs?'
'Yes.' The priest was unaccountably nervous. He had never felt this way with another man.
Primo lay on his back on the floor in front of the priest and raised his legs, exposing a tight vulva between his anus and scrotum. 'To self fertilise I use my penis in the same way as usual, it's flexible and just long enough.' With a bored sigh he got to his feet and stared down at the guards and parked vehicles.
'Have you any children?' Dominic asked huskily?
'Boy or girl?'
Loud, musical laughter burst from Primo. 'Both! You stupid witchdoctor!'
'Do you know anything about humans?' The voice threatened.
'Like all my people I've spent most of my life among you lot, all over the country, working in various jobs, meeting as many as possible. If we hope to survive we have to know the enemy.'
'The enemy eh? You seem to have a low opinion of Homo sapiens.'
'Homo sapiens! Ha! A misnomer if ever there was one. Homo destroyer would be nearer the mark. They're little more than clever toolmakers. Like the other animals that evolved alongside them, humans have neither awareness nor respect for their mother.'
'The Virgin Mary?' the priest asked in surprise.
'Nature, you imbecile. The living matrix in which all life evolved, that humans have turned into a toxic dump. Coastal cities are under water. Billions of refugees starving, homeless and rioting, ruled by insane warlords using a combination of physical terror and irrational fear of a supernatural, vengeful god. It seems bad now, but the horror has barely begun. You think the weather's wild now? You haven't seen anything yet!' With a contemptuous shake of his head he quit the verandah and disappeared.
Jarek broke the silence. 'Well? Are you satisfied?'
'I am,' the priest replied, 'and have made my decision.' As he heaved himself to his feet, three vehicles similar to those attending the destruction of the research laboratories pulled up in front of the house and disgorged a dozen Kevlar clad, heavily armed men who joined the priest's two guards and stood in a circle facing outwards, bodies and assault rifles ready for trouble.
'You've just been satisfying your curiosity and wasting our time.' Sebastian stated pensively, gazing off towards the mountains. 'And so have we.' He turned to the Priest. 'You are even more horrible than I realised. Do you really think we'd let you and your goons be the first people outside the research team to learn about and see the result of our work?' He turned back towards the driveway. 'Your bodyguards seem in trouble.' The two old men watched impassively as the invaders appeared to freeze then drop to the ground, gloved hands scrabbling at their faces.
'Kill these two whores!' Dominic shouted to his driver. But like his fellows, he too had sunk moaning to his knees, clawing at his eyes, body in spasm.
'Whoever designed those uniforms should be fired,' Jarek observed calmly. 'Eyes need as much protection as everything else. Don't worry, they're not dead,' he added, 'a tiny dart in the eye has dissolved and released toxins that zipped along the optic nerve to the brain where they're interfering with muscular coordination.'
'My god but you'll pay for this!' Dominic shrieked hysterically. 'It had better not be permanent!'
'They'll be able to see through the other eye if someone props it open for them, and they'll be able to hear, but never able to hurt anyone again.' He turned to Primo who had reappeared beside him. 'What'll we do with this blubbery pawn of his malignant god, Primo?'
Primo stepped forward and gazed coolly down at the quivering heap of fear. 'Do you think we should do unto you as your henchmen do unto us?' he asked the priest seriously.
Dominic's eyes widened and strangled noises issued from slack lips. Primo slammed him across the face with the back of his hand, breaking his nose. Blood gushed.
Dominic's mouth moved but no sound emerged.
Primo raised his hand again. 'I said answer me,' his soft voice adding menace.
'No.' The usually strident voice a mere whisper.
'Tough luck. During my visits to your world I heard many, many tales about the methods you use to punish those who oppose you. You are now opposing me and my people so I reckon it's time to balance the equation.' He turned. 'Do you agree, Sebastian and Jarek?'
With a cry of terror Brother Dominic heaved himself from the chair, only to be felled by a casually administered light chop to his throat. With no apparent effort Primo dragged the inert lump by one foot down to join the oddly jerking guards by their vehicles, and held him while Sebastian fetched a chair. After dumping him upright in it, Primo stood back and watched Jarek bind him firmly in place with thin rope. Sebastian produced a small, sharp, skinning knife and handed it to Primo who waved towards the trees that bordered the driveway. The priest groaned and gazed in horror at the crowd of New Men that was gathering around them.
'What... what are you going to do?' He croaked through his smashed voice box.
'If I did even an eighth of the things you and your henchmen have done to others, you'd die, and we don't want that, do we?'
The heavy head shook slightly and the eyes registered a slight flicker of hope.
'No, it's important to us that you remain alive and fully aware of the horrors perpetrated by you and your regime. We want you to live for many years so you can fully comprehend the enormity of your foulness. Therefore I'll only remove your fingers, lips, nose, ears and eyelids, and peel the skin and hair from the top of your scalp. Each of those things are excruciatingly painful and bleed messily, but the blood coagulates quickly enough to prevent serious loss, so your only long-term problems will be infection and keeping your eyes from drying out.'
He stood back, took the knife from Sebastian and tested its sharpness.
Jarek stood behind the priest and tousled his hair as if he was a child. 'You'll miss these pretty locks, I suppose, but luckily for you you've banned voluntary euthanasia, so no matter how you plead you'll be looked after until the day you die. That should give you at least thirty years to think about the meaning of it all. And your paralysed and semi-blinded guards will create loads of useful employment with their requirement of constant care and attention.' He glanced at Primo. 'But I'm wasting time. OK, Primo, over to you.'
Shock and pain such as he'd never before experienced prevented Dominic from uttering more than a high-pitched wail as his torturer performed the operations with exquisite skill, casually tossing skin, hair, and the amputated bits and pieces over his shoulder into the dust and grass as he worked. When finished he wiped the blade on his bloody victim's clothes and handed it back to Sebastian.
'We haven't long,' Primo said urgently. 'There'll be a back-up force arriving soon because their headquarters haven't heard from these guys for a while, so I reckon we'll be off. Will you two be OK?'
'We'll be fine, thanks.'
Primo sent a couple of his brothers to drag the guard from the verandah onto the drive while Jarek and Sebastian gazed affectionately at the assembled New Men.
'My dear friends,' Sebastian said calmly, 'it's time for you to take total control of your lives, owing nothing to, and depending on no one except yourselves. You will never be safe among Homo sapiens, so take the greatest care to avoid all contact. Jarek and I are also leaving. We love each of you as our sons and wish you success, contentment and enough happiness to make your lives a pleasure. Goodbye.'
The air filled with the deep rumble of two hundred and thirty voices bidding their mentors farewell, then as silently as they had arrived they vanished.
Back on the verandah, Sebastian took a flask from a cupboard, poured the contents into tumblers, offered one to Jarek and sat in the chair beside him. After raising their glasses in a brief toast they tossed back their potions, then held hands and relaxed into armchairs, smiling for the last time into the eyes of the person they had loved above all others.
Ten minutes later, five black SUVs surged up the drive and disgorged twenty Kevlar clad warriors armed to the teeth. Their astonishment at the plight of their comrades turned to disbelief at the sight of the screaming, bloody skull of the fat man who, judging by his clothes, could only be Brother Dominic. Several crossed themselves-from habit, not because of the horrific spectacle-they'd inflicted similar wounds themselves on many occasions without compunction or compassion; the problem was what to do with him. The second in command raised his rifle to put the fellow out of his misery, but was stopped by his superior officer before he could fire.
'What are you thinking?' he snapped. 'Only God may take the life of this holy man. He must live and serve as an inspiration to us all, spurring us on to even greater sacrifices in our battle against the forces of the devil.' He stared at the house. 'Those two men on the verandah had something to do with this! Get them!'
Five guards were bounding up the steps when a gigantic firebomb erupted somewhere in the centre of the house.
Chapter 2: About a Thousand Years Later