We tortured the mams for a couple of hours before killing them. You didn’t need to link to feel their fear. They cried and touched each other at the end; actually cuddled up to each other, as if their closeness could protect them from us. It was disgusting. One of the males placed itself in front of the others. It gibbered at us, shaking its hairy fists and making those stupid noises with its vocal chords K’to thinks are primitive words. K’to is stupid. Everyone knows no life form with only a voice box will ever learn to communicate.
Laughing, we focused our contempt on them through the bars of the cage and burned out their minds.
When they were dead we levitated the carcasses and threw them far outside the city gates. It amused us to watch other animals fighting over their bodies. These days food is scarce outside the city when you’re a stupid mam.
And fun is scarce inside the city when you’re a Silurian Prince.
Night found me lying flat on the crystal roof of the palace, gazing up at the sky. The Stranger was a few degrees north of the pole star, a cold blue light in the heavens, easily visible even if you didn’t know where to look for it. Tonight it was bright, but tomorrow it would be brighter still, and the night after that, yet brighter, until...
There was a sound behind me. Father stepped onto the palace roof. He walked towards me, paused without linking, stopped at the edge of the roof to gaze out over the crystal spires of the now-deserted city, towards the forests beyond. He was quiet for a long time.
He linked without turning. -You killed the mammals today. Morka-
-It wasn’t just me. It was Kchtaal as well. He-
Father held up a hand, the webbing between his fingers trembling angrily. To my shame, he spoke without linking, as if I was still newly hatched. ‘You know we must preserve a balanced ecology for the time when the Stranger has left our skies.’
‘Father, they were just mams! Kchtaal and I were bored, we-’
‘The mammals must be replaced. I will hunt for more tomorrow.’
I scrambled to my feet. ‘But Father, that means you won’t be coming into the shelter with me!’
‘You may spend the rest of the night thinking about that. You may also consider whether your friendship with Kchtaal is...entirely appropriate.’
‘But why can’t Kchtaal’s father -’
‘There will be no argument! Kchtaal’s father is responsible for sealing the shelters. Everyone else is already in hibernation. The mammals must be preserved, therefore I must hunt them.’
‘But we don’t need the mams, everyone knows that! You’re the Leader! You don’t need to obey the rules!’
Father’s third eye began glimmering angrily. I felt a sharp pain in my limbs. ‘If that is what you think then know this: a leader is more subject to the rules than are his people!’
‘I don’t understand, I -’
‘Enough, Morka!’ He turned to leave, hesitated, quivered with anger. ‘When you are summoned to the shelters you will obey. Do you understand?’
I said miserably, ‘But I’m afraid of the cold...’
Father said nothing. He turned back to face me one final time. ‘Good night, Morka.’
Then he was gone. The warmth in his voice had done nothing to ameliorate the coldness in his mind. He was disappointed with me. Worse, he was embarrassed. I realised now he had considered me an adult, and I realised how my immature action must have shamed him.
I gazed up at the Stranger, flung a bolt of mental energy at it, and was not surprised when all my rage had no effect on it whatsoever.
Resolving not to endure my shame alone, I linked with Kchtaal.
I’d already made one mistake. The second was fatal.
The Stranger was a swollen glow in the sky, clearly visible through thin, scudding clouds. The swamps were flooding because of the higher tides. Far across the great plains volcanoes lit the underside of the clouds with a sulphurous light. This was the scene later that night as I urged my dilophosaurus into the near reaches of the western forest. Kchtaal was beside me, riding a plateosaurus only two years from the nest. Nets were fastened to both our saddles. We had no herrerasaurus; we wanted to capture, not kill.
We found the mams gibbering nervously in a huddle around one of the bigger tangle-trees. The little tribe only had about thirty or forty members in it. Neither of us anticipated any trouble. We expected the mams to scatter a bit as we approached, to run about, squeaking like they always did, maybe to scream and pound their chests, as sometimes happened.
What really happened took us completely by surprise.
The mams attacked.
I suppose it must have been panic that motivated them, or fear. There was no organisation, no concerted effort; they were mams, after all. But what happened was bad enough. As Kchtaal and I approached, they began to mill around, jumping up and down, screeching louder and louder. I linked with Kchtaal and he shrugged, mentally. We continued forwards. Then from high in the tree came the first surprise. Rocks. The mams were throwing rocks at us!
The first rock struck Kchtaal on the head. He fell to the ground and I could see blood seeping from the crest of his skull. I ran to him, but somehow there seemed to be hairy bodies in the way. Bodies on which I stamped furiously. The screeching sound they made increased. Now I couldn’t tell if the sound was only outside my head or inside it as well. Was that Kchtaal screaming at me? I tried to link. I tried to -
Something tangled in my feet. My net. I fell to the ground, scrambling madly. I turned over and saw sticks in hairy fists raised against the starlight. Rocks looped out of the darkness, smashing into the ground around me. Something wet trickled down the side of my face. Was I bleeding? Had one of the vermin hit me?
The sticks began to rise and fall. Now I began to feel the pain. The smell was overpowering. The mams were all over me, screeching, beating me and each other in a frenzy of bloodlust, their teeth ripping at my skin.
I felt a hot breath on my cheek, closed my eyes so they could not be bitten. The Egg only knew what filthy diseases these vermin carried. How dare they, I thought. I am a Prince! A Silurian -
Then one of the sticks crushed down onto my skull crest and
when I awoke the forest was burning. Further towards the plains a volcanic eruption had split the ground. Sparks and little trickles of lava were already glimmering in the distance. I looked around. The ground was littered with twenty or thirty hairy bodies. One or two were dragging themselves away on damaged limbs. In the middle of this carnage there was a larger form.
I ran to him. No life stirred in his breast. His third eye was fixed open, an expression of rage on his face. This was how the mams had finally been dispatched. Kchtaal had saved my life. And the mams had killed him for his courage.
I threw back my head and screamed my rage into the night; twenty paces away a hairy form squealed and fell dead to the ground.
Then I picked up my dead friend and began to walk back to the city.
I met Father near the city. He had come out into the night and was looking for me. He saw Kchtaal in my arms but made no attempt to take him from me.
There was no comfort in him for me when he linked. -The city is unsafe because of the earthquake. The entrance to the shelter has been buried under tons of rubble. We cannot go in there.-
I gaped silently. -What are we to do?-
-We must try to reach the northern city where Okdel is leader. The shelters there will have room for us.-
-The choice to hunt was yours, Morka. Now you have another choice. Bury your friend or carry him with us.-
-I cannot leave him!-
-If you cannot leave the past behind you, then the burden is yours to carry alone.-
-Father, what do you mean? I don’t understand-
-I pray that you will understand when you are older.- Without another word, he turned and walked away into the burning night.
I hesitated for a moment, remembering the cold thrill of fear. The image of a stick in a hairy fist silhouetted against the glowing disk of the Stranger. Then I, too, began to walk.
As I walked, the weight of Kchtaal in my arms turned my fear into anger, and then into a deep, unforgiving rage.
A rage that would last a hundred million years.