A depraved blessing, p.29
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       A Depraved Blessing, p.29

           D.C. Clemens
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  Chapter Twenty-Nine


  In a rare occurrence, time was kind to us. The sound of an approaching engine could be identified well before I could waste all my energy treading water. Of course, it made more than a few become frightened on hearing its grumble, and I would be lying if I said the same did not happen to me, but where the noise arose, we saw a hovercraft emerge from the horizon. Other boats followed her lead. It was soon clear they carried noble intentions when they began fishing out the stranded. It was as if a Spirit of Grace and her legion of helpers were liberating us from the desolate abyss, even if they were only to lead us into the gates of a dank dungeon. With a closer scrutiny, I thought the hovercraft to be the same one that rescued us from the island base, but I suppose they all looked alike.

  The five of us were picked up by the primary rescuer and once my feet felt the haven of its surface, I felt myself become disoriented from exhaustion. What brought me back to some semblance of feeling was the vision of the crystal blue ocean lapping around us, but I had to shut my eyes from its beautifully placid view, not wanting to turn the seascape into something I would grow to hate. It too should not be defiled by the ones who made us grieve so much. I could then sense a cool, salty draft already begin drying my soaked skin. When the hovercraft filled with as many stranded as it could hold, our ride turned north, where I eventually saw the shoreline, growing wider with each passing second. No voices were heard for much of the short trip. Silence said more of what we had endured than anything comprised with words. Dayce by now was awake and no longer bleeding. His cut was shallow and he told me it only tingled a little, though I was afraid he was ailing from a concussion, since he still acted fairly dazed.

  It was only after our tender feet touched the softness of the empathetic sand did conversation begin among us. The highest ranking soldier, or I assumed him to be so, ordered us to remain where he left us, while the vessels returned to the crash site to retrieve more stranded. I would call them survivors, but that would be redundant, and perhaps incorrect. More exchanges ensued after the engines of the hovercraft and its fellow vessels faded away. These interactions never went as loud as murmurs. There was something coarse in the tightly wound air that even made the wind too afraid to breathe naturally. I saw my mother perusing all the faces in the crowd. I knew she was looking for Delphnia and Bervin, for I was guilty of doing the same. There was no success, which, I’m sad to confess, I was only too prepared for, but that didn’t stop my mother from continuing the quest. Near where the sea caressed the land, sat Eloram. She had collapsed on the sand and allowed the low tide to come to her as it may, her eyes fixated toward some incoming navy boats. She was drained no doubt, as it took all of my own strength to not let my legs fold beneath me, and I was surprised that she was able to sit up at all. I slinked through the crowd and came closer to where she rested. When I was beside her I noticed that her weariness came second to the anguish glimmering in her avid eyes, the sun’s rays impressing their brilliance on them. She was on the verge of crying.

  “Why?” I heard her ask in a near whisper. “Why would our own kind attack us?” I don’t believe she was talking at any one in particular and I even distrusted that she heard her own words.

  Her question was the main topic of discussion taking place on this stretch of the coastline. It had also been stirring in my wrecked head since the moment Siena informed me of the saboteur.

  “Roym?” said my mother. She had followed me, as well as Siena, to check on Eloram. “Do you think the Injectors controlled the ship?” Her voice was timid, knowing, no matter my answer, it would not bring us comfort.

  “Probably not,” I answered. “At least, not directly. All this started when someone sabotaged the engine. Psychologically snapping is one thing, but for it to coincide with another ship arriving to collide with us? It obviously points to a plan, and one that would do the most damage to both ships.” When I saw Siena’s eyes widen, I knew she realized what I was starting to imply.

  “Why would they want to damage their own ship?” a voice behind me probed.

  I turned around to see an old male sailor, who had evidently listened in to the launch of my explanation, along with the four others that were with him. They all had turned their attention to me, staring vacantly at me as they waited for my answer.

  After faltering, I said, “Because, much like the soldier who sabotaged the engine, they weren’t really in control of their actions.”

  “What do you mean?” asked the same interrogator.

  “I mean, the only explanation that makes sen… that answers everything, is that the Injectors were able to control them using their nanotechnology. They didn’t want to betray us, they were forced to.”

  “So they can control us?!” said the horrified sailor. “Like fucking puppets?!”

  Another one of his fledgling comrades investigated further by asking, “So, even now, an Injector could tell us to go crazy and there’s nothing we can do about it?”

  “It’s only a theory,” I explained somberly, “but, hypothetically, if we were exposed to enough of their nanotechnology, then it’s possible.”

  My theory was quickly unfurled across the group and largely treated as a legitimate fact, as there was no better justification to most of the actions and complications to what we had experienced. The more it propagated, the more I bemoaned being the designer. The possibility that our nigh invulnerable enemy had yet another trick in their arsenal gave many faces a new coat of tension. Nonetheless, if there was any trifling consolation that came from this dark hypothesis, it was appreciating that we were not deliberately betrayed by our own.

  Before we were allowed to grieve or have a moment where we could lament our woes and say our prayers, the static-filled sounds and shouts of more chaos arose. Being released from numerous radios, we could hear a battle brewing from where the Tower fell as clearly as though it was happening before us. A large force was still there and we listened to their days painfully come to a close. Adding credence to my supposition, since there were no reports about any Injectors or infected in the area, they were fighting amongst themselves. If able to muster enough courage and resolve to heed the calls coming forth, it was made known that the nanotechnology’s treacherous influence was not restrained to only a few, but wrought to a significant percentage of the forces there. Yitro was there. Was he too among those attacking his brothers and sisters, whether from self-defense or delivered madness?

  The shore was met with an influx of freshly arrived men and women after several more drop-offs by the rescue teams, giving the beach over a thousand salvaged stranded by the end of the hour. As our resplendent star started her descent, I saw a growing cloud of dust approach the beach from the barren northwestern vista. Before I could derive a guess as to its source and decide whether I should be glad to see it or begin to wish I had not parted with the sea, I perceived the ever familiar and bumpy hum of diesel engines. The caravan of mostly military vehicles had already begun lining themselves at the edge of the beach. Without a word or command that I could hear, many had begun pouring into them, as though this was by now set as their routine. I myself become reawaked by a sailor who urged me and my assembly to follow their lead. I ended up sitting in the passenger seat of a jeep with Dayce in my arms, having never let him go since we were retrieved. He looked to be soundly sleeping, but I knew no one could have sound slumbers anymore. The girls were in the rear seats and, with a glance at each of them, I saw them as mere shells of their former selves, knowing that they were thinking the same of me. On the driver’s seat of the jeep was a young male soldier. He was too young, I believed. I wondered if he was even old enough to drive, seeing as his eyes had too much depth for them to properly make out was right in front of him.

  “Do you know where we’re going?” I asked the driver.

  He seemed to be contemplating, but of what, I was unsure of. “There’s a town not too far from here,” he presently said. “We’ve
been using it as a base of operations. We’re falling back there.”

  His voice caught my attention, more so than his words. Even though it was strained and weak, it still carried such great weight that, regardless of the jeep’s idling engine, I could hear it as clearly as though we were in a hollow cave. I was certain if his voice held on to all its strength, it would have sounded just as authoritative as any of the highest-ranking generals. We began our trek northward once the convoy had gathered all those it could. Though the fleet kept in its single file order, there were no other vehicles on the desolate two-lane motorway we reached. Watching the parched wasteland we were now in, with barely the skeleton of a shrub to break the bare and boundless fields of sand, it was easy to think that not only might we be the lone survivors left on this world, but the last living beings in all the cosmos.

  Miles lapsed, our voices in reserve for most of them. The only conversations I could catch in these deserted miles were those that flew from the radios. I would have preferred not to hear anything at all, as nothing was said that we did not already know, including the forsaken cries begging for help. Ten miles we crossed before I saw the outlying formations of squat buildings, followed by a sign coming into legible view. It welcomed us to the town of Dekulo and read that it had a population of 16,500. A military checkpoint was just ahead, which I wanted to make me feel protected, but it did no such thing. After a brief wait in line, as most vehicles seemed to know where to go, our driver told the soldier at his post that he was transporting civilians.

  “Follow Rusee Road.” stated the frontier soldier. He had his shades on, but it could not hide his fatigue. “Then turn at Inway and go on until you reach the center”

  Deeper and deeper we journeyed into the environs of Dekulo. None of the buildings were particularly tall, as was the case for most constructions found in the deep northern and southern deserts, and it was obvious that many of the buildings had not been built in the last century. For the fleeting moments when a modern building was absent from view, I deemed we had entered a portal and were traversing an antique kingdom shaped by the Evon Spirits themselves. A majority of the architecture consisted of thick stone structures that had seen their share of battles with the weather over the years, for there was enough wear and tear on them for a thousand years, but they were all impregnable and fixed solidly in their place, eager for a thousand more. All comprised the feature of rounded corners that I knew to be for the purpose of gaining improved resistance from the powerful sandstorms that were oftentimes a daily occurrence in these parts. Fortunately, there was no sign of a dust cyclone on this day, in fact, we seemed to be the only ones moving in this static region, and, before long, even we had stopped. We parked in front of a wide one-story building. It was encased in stone like the others, but it was not as bruised and had some contemporary flares, such as a thin coat of white plaster on the lower sections, and more windows, though these were boarded up. Labeled in white, bold letters in the front above the doorway were the words ‘Dekulo Community Center.’

  “They’ll help you out in there,” said our escort, more out of habit than anything else. “Good luck.”

  Once we walked through the double doors of the center, we were greeted with the rush of something that reunited me with the concept of comfort, the cooling waft that could only come from an air conditioner. There were also working artificial lights in the small lobby we entered, something I had not seen in the other buildings we passed, though I did not know if that was due to a deliberate regulation or if it meant a generator was powering the impromptu crisis dwelling. Behind the counter to our left was an elderly gentleman, his features shadowed as he looked down while he penned something on a small white pad. He didn’t seem to realize we came in, for he continued to write without any diffidence. Only by standing directly in front of him did he lift up his stern face, looking as weather worn as any of the buildings.

  “More refugees, eh?” he said under his breath. “Welcome to Dekulo, I guess. If you don’t mind, jot down your names on the clipboard in case anyone comes looking for you.” He casually pointed to the clipboard that rested on the counter, then he resumed his writing.

  Siena took the clipboard from the table and had begun the process of signing everyone’s names. I attempted to discreetly see whatever it was the old man was inscribing, curiosity getting the better of me, but my pursuit ended without triumph, as the old man shielded much from my sight.

  As Siena gave the clipboard back him, he briefly looked over it, then proceeded to say, “All right, did you see that red truck right outside? We’ll hop in that and I’ll take you to your assigned house. Just let me get my replacement.”

  “We’re not staying here?” asked Siena, as she watched him rise from his chair and place his documents in a drawer.

  “No room,” was the only answer he gave before he turned and went through a door that led him deeper into the offices of the center.

  After hearing the old man’s steps dwindle away behind the door, which closed behind him using its own momentum, I heard some chatter coming from within, but they were too indistinct to make anything out. The footsteps resurged themselves less than thirty seconds later, being accompanied by another pair. The door opened to reveal the already familiar old man’s uninviting face followed by one that was even older and crustier than the previous. His countenance was not as grim, but he paid no heed to any of us, merely walking to the chair his companion had left and instantly began to write on his own pad, mirroring the first author. While he was occupied in that furtive endeavor, the other brought a case of water bottles with him, which he carried with only one hand, making it look as light as the pen he had held. He walked past us to go outside and we trailed his tracks. He handed each of us a water bottle as we entered the truck’s bed, not allowing anyone to actually enter the passenger seats. We all drank the cool bottles with great greed, not realizing how long it had been since the invigorating nectar last trickled down our throats. We were soon on the road.

  Only a splinter of the sun could be seen breaking through the horizon. The moons were coming out of their new phase and the stars were just as scarce as the modern homes in the remote town. Only by passing the occasional military vehicle was I reminded that we were still not entirely alone, for no home emanated light or activity. We stopped in front of a hefty two-story building in what seemed to be the oldest neighborhood. It was also the oldest building I had seen yet, excluding the new garage added alongside it. Charmingly, there were chiseled carvings of desert creatures and Spirit emblems hemming the stone walls, though the details were difficult to make out with the shadows prevailing and time wearing off much of their protrusions. Spoiling my appreciation of the picturesque view was the jarring blare of the truck horn that the old man took full advantage of more than once.

  “Just do what the girl tells you,” he said with a coughing grunt.

  As his words were spoken, the heavy wooden doorway of the abode creaked open. Through it came out a girl around Eloram’s age. Unlike Eloram, I thought she had not yet lost her innocence that this vile world had so cruelly taken away from so many. I began to see her more clearly as she strode closer. She was quite beautiful and looked to me like a young Liz, the one I first saw while she sat on a campus bench near some golden flowers that were no match for her eyes, but perhaps I was only imposing Liz on her. As we exited the vehicle, she jogged up to the driver’s side to meet the old man, who had not stirred from his station.

  “Are you staying this time?” she expectantly asked the old man.

  “Sorry, sweetheart,” he replied, at least I believed it to be him, for his attitude was completely different in her presence. “I’m needed at the center. I’ll try tomorrow, okay? Now show these people inside.”

  She lightly kissed his cheek and gave him a sweet farewell smile. She turned to us as the truck was beginning to vanish in the darkness and her smile grew even more amiable and welcoming. “This way,” she said as she began
to stroll to the door. “My name is Sendai and that was my grandfather, Hernan Kay, since I’m sure he didn’t tell you any of that.”

  We introduced ourselves in return. Dayce was awakened by the ride, but still groggy and unable to announce himself. She opened the door to invite us all into the home. Stepping within the household, I was immediately met with the quaint sight of its living room, simply lit by a lamp in the corner. Although it was not diminutive in size, it appeared much smaller than it actually was, there being four corpulent couches that occupied the room. Also there to play a role in the deception were the many people who were seated on the couches and chairs, all of whom were women and children. Most granted us a quick eyeball before returning to their quiet contemplations or feeding the children.

  “How many others are in the house?” my mother asked our benign hostess, while we continued to advance toward the stairway of tanned stone on the right side of the living area.

  “Fourteen, including myself,” she answered. “But there’s still enough space and sleeping bags for the five of you on the second floor.”

  Once we climbed up the rough stairs, I found an open bedroom to my right. Inside it laid a small, artfully ornamented chandelier hanging from the center of the ceiling and below that were three small children playing a board game on the floor. The room was completely painted in a soft purple and it was attractively decorated with various painted desert blossoms. Sendai came to the door at the end of the hall and unlocked it to expose another bedroom, considerably bigger than the other I saw, but by no means as ostentatious. The scent that met us as the door swung open told me it was her grandfather’s room.

  “He’ll hate his room being used by strangers, but…” Sendai paused while walking into the room, gazing from the floor to the ceiling. Spinning back around to face us, she said, “He’s a good man, he’s just traditional. Anyway, I’ll get your sleeping bags.”

  While I handed Dayce to my mother, I said, “Siena and I will help you.”

  “Is it just you and your grandfather?” Siena queried our hostess as we exited the bedchamber.

  “It’s usually just my grandfather here, at least since my grandmother died a few years back. Actually, I was visiting when everything started happening.”

  “I haven’t seen any men here,” Siena noted, making it sound more like a random thought than it actually was.

  “Gramps is a bit distrustful of most men beyond the age of thirteen around me. I was actually surprised to see he allowed you in the house, Mr. Rosyth. He’s a good judge of character, you know. I suppose he had a good feeling about you.”

  I was roused in my sleeping bag by the prickly sound of many miniscule taps on the darkened window, but that was all I remembered, for I instantly fell back into a deep sleep with the aid of the tranquilizing beats. I awoke the next morning by the same sound, though it was not as overt. A little investigation confirmed we were in a sandstorm. According to Sendai, it was the first one in nearly a week, which evidently meant it could last for two or three days. Though I knew it was foolish to feel so, I felt safer shrouded by the tempest of sand. The strength of the storm fluctuated throughout the day and it was during one of the lull periods in the afternoon that Sendai’s grandfather reappeared. Keeping the assurance he had made to her the night before, he stayed in the house.

  While eating some canned rations in his dining room later that evening, I thanked him for sharing his home with us.

  “You’re welcome,” he said without any coldness from the day before. “I never imagined I’d ever have to share this home with this many people, or this town, for that matter.”

  “Why not?”

  “My granddaughter hasn’t told you about the history of this house?”

  I shook my head.

  He sighed and smiled wearily to himself. “I ask as if there’s nothing important going on. I forget myself sometimes. This building is what’s known as a Dekulo house, named after the town’s founder. There were six others like this one spread throughout town, including the Spirit Temple. Dekulo was an ancient spirit priest who traveled the world helping to spread the Spirits’ Message. In his later years, he discovered the ancient nomadic desert people here and settled with them. It’s said the Spirits blessed his efforts by giving him the warping ability, which he then used to help build the town.”

  “Then the Dekulo buildings were personally warped by him?”

  “Yes. Over twenty-five hundred years old they are, and without any significant restoration to the main structure. As you can presume, the sacred buildings are revered by the people here. It’s an unwritten rule that only those with old connections with the town are allowed to live and maintain the homes, even outsiders are discouraged from staying long. I know these are trying times, but I still can’t help but feel a tinge of blasphemy. My family has held this house for eleven generations without fail. My only son preferred the modern hustle and bustle of city life, but his daughter showed promise of returning. It’s one of the reasons she was visiting. Ah! You don’t want to hear an old man babble about shit that doesn’t matter, right? How ‘bout a little reward for listening?”

  “I’ll give you my left arm if it has alcohol.”

  “Don’t bother, I wouldn’t have a need for it.” He opened a high cupboard, pulled out two glasses, and grabbed a large liquor bottle already two-thirds empty. “Emergency ration.”

  Thanks in large part to the sleeping aid I was bestowed with, I was able to tumble into an impermeable slumber that I had not experienced in weeks.

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