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PART TWO: Of Doctors and Daemons
 
Both the victor
and the vanquished are
but drops of dew,
but bolts of lightning -
thus should we view the world.
                                                Ôuchi Yoshitaka
                                                   1507-1551

astra’s eyes quickly adjusted to the dim light of the basement.  With no lamps or candles lit, the only illumination came from the open door at the top of the stair.  While she was more than comfortable with the small amount of light weakly filtering down, she still walked from wall to wall, slowly lighting four oil lamps hung midway across each of the damp chamber’s four walls.  Still far from brightly lit, the lamps did enough to reduce the basement’s cavernous atmosphere.

In the centre of the room stood a tall wooden pillar, a length cut from an old larch tree and stood on end.  Much of the bark appeared to have been stripped or chipped away in a rough manner.  Vastra walked over to it, running a hand over the rough surface, her eyes a sea of confusion and hurt and loss.  She slowly strode past, her hand trailing behind as she retained contact on the wood.  A few more steps brought her to a table covered with a red and gold embroidered cloth.  One hand reached down and lightly touched the material, the smoothness of the silk a very different sensation indeed compared to the rough wood she had walked past.

A teak rack sat atop the cloth covered table.  The flickering lamp light danced across three glossy, laminated black saya, arched to the top with hilts pointed to the right.  Beneath them sat a small ceramic bottle on a blood-red silk rope.  She picked up the bottle and held it in her hand for a moment before placing it back on the rack.  Deep in thought, she ran her fingers across the cool, smooth surface of the black saya, over the sculpted metal tsuba, and finally to the textured tsukaitself.  Her fingers lingered there, finally wrapping around and drawing the blade from the saya slowly.  The blade itself was finely patterned; the result of countless hours folding and refolding the steel the sword was forged from.  Vastra then drew the blade’s sister from the saya beneath it, holding one loosely in each hand.  Turning back to the length of wood behind her, she raised the blades in salute, and silently began a carefully choreographed kata.

As she did, her thoughts drifted back…

~~~

he alarm sounded in Forward Stasis Chamber Viridian Beta.  Within one of the individual hibernation cells, a pair of eyes slowly blinked.  The figure jolted as a pulse shocked her systems into full function.  The cell opened and she quickly exited, her ornate handgun cradled tightly in her hands.  She looked from side to side, noticing the remaining eleven cells had opened, yet none of her warrior-sisters emerged from their sleep.  Concerned, she ran to one of them, and the sight brought a strained cry from her throat. 

Inside the cell slumped the desiccated husk of one of her sisters, collapsed against the far wall.  The corpse’s skin was dull and dry, the grey mask barely hanging on her face.  Tears running down her face, the lone warrior moved from cell to cell, knowing what she would find in each, yet needing to see this for herself.  Of the twelve warriors in her unit, only she survived to awaken.  Anger rising deep inside her, she moved to a display screen and brought it online.

There was an incursion one mile from her current position, near Forward Stasis Chamber Viridian Alpha.  Closest to the surface, the warriors there would be the first line of defence in the event that their cavern was breached.  Concerned that they too had somehow not survived their hibernation, she took off at a run to survey the situation and drive off any possible invaders.  She knew she was alone, but she reasoned it was most likely that any invaders would be simple, primitive apes.  She could certainly handle a group of them on her own…her training assured her of that.

The tunnels grew lighter as she closed in on the surface.  There was a sharp bend before the final incline toward the stasis chambers and the outside.  She paused there, slowly peering around the corner to assess the situation.

Some two hundred or three hundred yards ahead, what appeared to be a group of apes stood, as he expected.  She did not expect them to be wearing what appeared to be clothes, nor did she expect them to be carrying flame or what appeared to be digging tools.  She wondered for the first time how long she had been asleep, as these apes had none of the heavy, wiry hair that covered their bodies as last she saw, when she and her sisters hunted them for sport.  They chattered and chattered at each other, but their sounds had the actual shape and form of words.

How can this be? she asked herself.

She then shook her head, casting that thought from her mind.  Clothed or not, they are still apes, she reasoned.  My sisters may not have woken, but I have, and it is my job to protect my people! 

With a scream she burst from behind the corner, her gun at the ready as she charged the apes before her.  They turned to see what had made such a noise, and one of them gaped as his lamp shone across the near-featureless grey mask, broken only by two large black glass eyes that stared, empty of any emotion or humanity.

‘God, in Heaven!  A monster!  For the love of all that’s holy…RUN!’

He turned to run, but found himself blocked by the men who had come with him.  They stood there, slack jawed and shocked as the creature burst up the tunnel toward them, terrible screams coming from some inhuman throat.  Paralyzed with fear, they could do little more than stand there and watch as an avatar of death advanced unrelentingly upon them.

‘You fools!  RUN!’

Their shock worn off, they turned to flee en masse.  As they neared the tunnel’s mouth, one of them tripped over a rock jutting up from the floor.  He fell to the tunnel’s floor hard, nearly knocking the wind from his chest.  He screamed for help, but not one of his companions stopped or turned to offer assistance.  Scrambling across the floor, he had nearly made it back to a standing position when he felt something heavy strike him from behind, sending him sprawling on the dirt and rock a second time.  He turned over and looked up, seeing the creature standing over him, a strange weapon pointed down at him.  He held his hands up before him, covering his face.  His eyes squeezed shut, yet tears still began to flow from them as he began to plead for mercy.

‘Please…I don’t know who you are!  I don’t know what you are!  Please, don’t do this!  I’m begging you…spare me!’

The only response was a hiss from behind the mask.  He opened his eyes in time to see a finger squeeze slowly against what was most certainly a trigger.

The rest was silence.

She looked up and saw the tunnel emptied of the rest of this ape’s tribe.  Hearing nothing from beyond the tunnel’s mouth, she stepped to one side, placing her hand on a small indent on the wall.  Cracks appeared on the stone surface, revealing a door that slowly slid open.  Stepping into the chamber hidden beyond, she touched a dark screen.  After a few moments, it glowed with life.  Lights came on inside the ten hibernation cells in Forward Stasis Chamber Viridian Alpha and she moved from cell to cell, already knowing what she would find at each.

She rested her head against one glass chamber as tears flowed from her eyes like Twin Rivers.  Once again she cried, and a sound that evoked pure sorrow arose from her throat like some wordless elegy. 

She didn’t know how long she stood there mourning, but as the flow of tears slowed, she knew one thing.  ‘I will have my revenge on the apes for what they have done to my sisters,’ she spoke quietly.

‘It’s not their fault, you know.’

She spun on her heels, her weapon at the ready.

At the entry to the stasis chamber stood a male ape, dressed in a similar manner to the ones she had just chased out of her tunnels.  Thin, almost gangly or malnourished looking, he stood with one leg crossed over the other, leaning against the opening with a sad half smile on his face.  One hand was hidden in a trouser pocket, while the other stretched over his head, aiding in supporting him.

‘What trickery is this?  How is it you speak such that I can understand you?’

‘Always just a moment too late…or too early.  Any answer to your question would make so much more sense if we’d gotten here on time.’

‘Explain yourself!’

 
         

artwork by ANDY LAMBERT
used with permission
 
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