Aphelion Issue 241, Volume 23
July 2019
 
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From The Skin Of The Lamb

by Gary Budgen


To get away from the attentions of Mattie, Esther had gone looking for her little sister Sarah. She found her near the plank bridge that led from the island encampment to the mainland where the old church loomed like a ghost ship. In Sarah's hands was what looked like some sort of plastic token or coin.

"What is it?" Esther asked. "Can I have a look?"

There were many relics from the past, washed in by the floods. Mattie had told her about the boy who'd once found a metal box with glass tubes in it called ampoules.

"I would have recognized the symbols," Mattie had declared.

But the boy who found them had snapped the top off an ampoule and caught the spray in his face and died. Lots of people got sick. Esther's Grandfather, Peter, had taken the box away never saying what he'd done with it.

Esther took Sarah's find from her. What she had thought was dirt was tarry against her thumb. She smelt blood. She wiped the disk on her dress and saw that it was made of some tough but flexible substance, and -- where it was transparent -- she could make out the lines of some workings inside.

"Where did you find this Sarah?"

"Can I have it back now?"

"I think it might be important. Where did you find it?"

Sarah stood for a moment and shook her head, a motion that snaked down her whole body. "Oh," she said, "I knew someone would take it. I shouldn't have said."

Esther crouched down and held Sarah's shoulders and managed to catch her eyes. "Was it up by the church?"

Sarah nodded. Once again Esther examined the disk; her grandfather would have to see it but she did not want to bother him over nothing.

"You go and have your dinner Sarah, I'll give it back later."

The ground of the churchyard was soft and springy, part of the original marshland that had been that way even before the floods. Esther made her way along the gravel path between graves overgrown with ivy and brambles.

Then she heard it. A little shuffle that she told herself was a bird running through the undergrowth. It could even have been a rat. But she knew, through a familiarity with those sounds, that it was neither and that it had come from inside the church.

####

As the afternoon passed into evening, Peter had sat on a crate outside the up-turned boat that he had, long ago converted into a hut. That morning he had read aloud from Saint John's gospel, knowing that his people liked to hear about beginnings, about hope.

Now he looked out at the estuary. He remembered his last trip upriver to London, twenty years before. He had been looking for medical supplies but had strayed into the districts where he had once been a student. He had found the Great Museum: recognizable, yet transformed utterly. The roof and ceilings were gone and when it began to rain the water ran down the walls and over the empty plinths where once the treasures of Egypt and Babylon had stood.

All that could now be done, as he told his followers on his return, was to prepare for the end of days and know that in this terrible time there was hope, Christ would walk again upon the Earth.

And Peter, who knew this as a certainty though his lifetime of study, felt it too, felt it so that it became a yearning that sometimes threatened to drown him in its immensity.

####

Esther had never been into the church at this particular hour, and she walked into a broken rainbow -- the stained glass had been smashed out of the windows and the evening light hit the shards creating a dazzle of ruby, emerald and indigo across the buckled paves of the floor. There was a creaking and she caught movement coming from one of the shadowed corners of the nave where the rain had washed in a mound of mud and dirt.

"Who's there?" She edged forward, her chest hurting as she gulped the musty air full of dust that burnt in the dying light.

"Where am I? No access to the satellite. No connection to library databases."

He was a shape in the gloom, cut across his broad shoulders by the vanishing sun through the window gaps. He stumbled forward, wading into the gleam from the broken glass, knee bashing aside the remains of a pew. Then he stretched, pushing out his arms.

He was naked and she blushed but it was his presence that overcame her, his very bulk made the nave feel smaller, the vaulted roof lower. She saw that there was no hair on him at all and that he was well muscled. He was utterly different from either of the two men she knew: neither like her gnarled grandfather nor like Mattie who was hardly yet a man at all.

She saw a bloody gash on his forearm that he had begun to rub.

"Your arm?"

"It was," he groped for a word, "a tracer."

He came towards her now, stopping before he entered her reach. She brushed her hair back and then found that she had stretched out her hand, not knowing why.

"What is wrong with your arm? Will it be all right?"

"It is healed," he said taking another step. She felt his gaze and saw herself through his eyes and was aware of her own body delicate and budding amongst the decay of the church.

"Who are you?" she said.

He rubbed his hand across his bare head, not shorn or molted but having never borne hair: like a baby. "I awoke," he said, "and I was alone. I did not understand if there was a mission. I think there wasn't a mission and so why was I awake?" He looked at her though large watery eyes that were almost the color of the estuary waters.

Aware of her outstretched arm she bought it down and, through her dress, nervously rubbed her thigh. "I don't know." She stepped towards him and suddenly winced as her foot slipped and a fragment of glass cut her upper ankle above her shoe.

"What is it?"

"I've cut myself. See." She tilted her foot to show the bloodying slit.

He stared down at her foot. "It will heal," he said and pointed to his forearm where there was the faintest hint of a scar. Then, as they stood amidst the scattered iridescence of the broken glass, he smiled.

When Esther asked he told her that he had no name, and so she called him ‘Thomas', after the old church.

####

Limping, Esther led Thomas through the ramshackle huts of the encampment. Around the campfire outside the caravan the women stared with barely concealed anxiety and children with curiosity. For a moment they were all frozen in the incredulity that greeted all strangers, even those that were not naked giants.

Little Sarah ran forward, "Where's my round thing?"

Esther had forgotten all about it and now found the disk in the pocket of her dress.

As she was about to hand it over Thomas cried out. "It must be got rid of," he said, "tracer." And he pointed to his arm, where the gash had been.

"It was there?"

"Yes." The scar looked even older than it had half an hour before.

Mattie strode forward then, his slight figure further diminished when he stood next to Thomas. "Let me see that," he demanded.

As Esther handed it over she saw, behind Mattie, Old Ruth returning with a blanket. Just behind her was Esther's grandfather.

"Who are you?" asked Mattie.

"I'm lost," said Thomas finally, "I can't get a position. Nothing seems to work. Where is this place?"

"Where did you come from?"

Thomas sighed. He gestured behind him, back towards the mainland.

"Perhaps Grandfather might..." Esther ventured.

Mattie scowled at her. "I can handle this!"

Old Ruth handed Thomas the blanket but he just held it in his hand, draped along the floor, his body still bare.

Then Esther's grandfather stepped forward and Mattie saw him. "I'm sorry Peter I didn't know you were there."

Esther checked her grandfather's face and saw a look of absolute scrutiny, focused completely on Thomas, all the while he retained the calm that never seemed to desert him. "Ah," he said, "what have we here -- a newcomer. And I only came for leftovers. What a pleasure."

"His name is Thomas, Grandfather. At least I called him that. Because I found him in the old church."

"He had this," Mattie held out the tracer.

"Did he?" said Peter, "and who might be at the other end of this? Can you tell us Thomas?"

Confused and flustered Thomas looked from Peter to Mattie, then around the faces of the others. Finally he looked at Esther and returned her smile.

"I wasn't," Thomas said at last, "and then they woke me. But there was no mission. So I ran."

Mattie shifted and made to catch any glance that Peter might give him. But there was no exchange between them. Then after another moment Peter said, "We are forgetting ourselves. Someone please bring our guest some food."

Esther showed Thomas how to wrap the blanket around him and promised to find him some clothes. When the marsh eel stew was dished up Thomas examined it for a moment and then, as though finally remembering what food was, began to shovel it methodically into his mouth, chewing without seeming to taste and finishing every last morsel including the bones.

####

The next morning one of the women took the raft and threw the tracer far out into the estuary. Over the next few days Thomas, dressed in an old pair of dungarees, was set to work, gathering wood or wading out at low tide to plunge his fist into the mud for cockles. Esther found that she had to explain each task slowly and carefully but once she had done this Thomas performed it without hesitation, and without fatigue. Although her foot still hurt, by breakfast of the third day even the faintest scar on Thomas's arm had vanished.

####

Peter moved from his chair and lay on his cot, all the better to think. Once, when he had chosen the name Peter, he had thought that he might be the founder of a new church, a sanctuary that might survive into the new age. He suspected now that this was hubris, which in lighter moods he could mock. He had at least been able to gather together this band here, and to survive even after the men had not returned from a foraging trip, probably killed or press-ganged by a militia. Sometimes he wondered if ‘John' would have been a more fitting name to adopt, like Saint John on Patmos he was an exile on an island. And like Saint John, Peter was filled with visions of the end of things.

Lately, as he woke up to find that he was an old man, on the wane, doubt began to irritate him, threatening him with the unique pain of regret and despair. All this time, on the island, away from the events of the world, would he even notice the signs? What if he stumbled towards his own end without ever seeing the face he so longed for, the one that would bring light once more into the world?

#

Esther was with Thomas in the vegetable garden on the mainland when they came for him. Two men dressed in black, with axes and another, behind these, with a machine pistol waving about casually in his hand. The axe-men had cropped hair and looked nervous as they hefted their weapons and tried to appear menacing.

The man with the pistol grinned at Thomas. "We've come to take you home."

"How?" said Thomas.

"We weren't far behind and when you took out the tracer it sends a warning signal. Now come quietly and there won't be any trouble. For you or her." And he jerked the barrel at Esther.

The axe-men were dead before they even realized Thomas was moving as he simultaneously grabbed both of their weapons and cut into each of their heads in a motion that was almost balletic. The gunman realized what was happening just as it was his own turn, and managed to press down on the trigger for a second before Thomas leapt on him and snapped his neck.

It was only when Thomas turned that Esther realized she was on the floor, a bullet wound in her shoulder pumping out blood.

####

The pistol shot had bought Mattie and some of the others across to the mainland, where they flitted around Thomas as he bore Esther in his arms across the bridge to the island.

Behind them Mattie lingered for a moment, finally picking up the pistol before following.

Inside the caravan Esther was breathing in desperate gasps as Thomas applied pressure to her shoulder.

"Is she going to be all right?" asked Mattie.

Thomas didn't reply. The door opened and Mattie was just about to shout away the curious when he saw that it was Peter who turned pale as he saw his granddaughter.

As Peter approached, Thomas stood, turned his head and looked at him for a moment: made him stop. Then Thomas bared his own forearm and pinched the flesh, then tugged at it. He pulled hard and then yanked, ripping away a long patch of skin from his wrist to his elbow, leaving the next layer raw.

"What are you doing?" Mattie yelled.

Thomas stooped over Esther and wrapped the patch of skin around her wound, delicately shaping it around the contours of her shoulder muscle and smoothing it with his palms.

"Get off her, you madman!"

Mattie made to grab Thomas's shoulders but Peter held out his arm. "Please, Mattie," the old man said, "look."

Already the bleeding was slowing.

"How is it possible," Peter said, "Thomas, what is happening?"

Without turning around Thomas said, "We must wait."

The bleeding had stopped now and Esther's breathing had begun to slow into a regular rhythm. Then, at the surface of the wound there was a slight suppuration, and a bubble of blood formed, popped and was followed by another. Suddenly the wound convulsed like a tiny geyser and then, as though being blown out between pursed lips, the bullet bobbed to the surface, rested on Esther's arm for a moment, and then rolled down to clatter on the floor.

"Now," said Thomas, "it will heal."

####

Thomas watched her for an hour, finally allowing Old Ruth to tend her, and then stepped out onto the wooden steps outside the caravan where Peter followed him. The old man took Thomas's arm and led him to his boat.

"Well?" Peter said.

"She will heal."

"You've said that." He waited but Thomas said nothing until Peter was compelled to speak again. "Those who came after you," he said at last, "who hurt Esther, who were they?"

"They woke me. They woke me and the other who is like me. But they were not those who should have woken us."

"When you first came here you said that you were lost. What did you mean by that?"

"I cannot access any gateways or interfaces. The satellites are... unavailable. I cannot function at full capacity by matching data to stored templates. I am disorientated, as though a part of me is gone."

"A lot of those satellites were destroyed... there were battles up there."

The look of confusion, almost bereavement that overcame Thomas's face belied his great bulk, and the sense of strength that he gave out; it made Peter think of a child separated from all that was familiar. Peter realized the significance of a man having the innocence of a child yet strength beyond that of any ordinary man.

When Thomas didn't reply he went on. "Tell me what you did to Esther"

"At first I did not understand that Esther would not heal on her own. I thought it would just be slower, like her foot. But then the blood would not stop. My skin knew what to do."

For a moment Peter felt slightly dizzy and he rose and stood in the opening of the door with his back to Thomas, catching the salt breeze from the estuary.

Peter remembered talk of such technologies, part of a vanished era and for a moment this might have explained away what had happened, but had not all his life been a preparation for such a moment, a test? What if he failed in the task of recognizing what (who) it was before him?

Just as history might be rationalized as economic forces or the actions of men and yet still be part of the divine schema, so too the workings of cells and an accelerated healing process were not a sufficient explanation of what had happened. It still remained a miracle. His granddaughter would be dead otherwise.

Peter tried to gather his strength and each breath grated his chest as he became overcome with fear that he might fail. "I have been waiting," he said, "for someone -- for the coming of someone... he would be able to heal, like you..."

"Is it me?"

"He would not know at first... It would be like..." he had an inspiration, "like a mission. As though you were on a mission and the purpose of it only became clear as you did it, and you realize that all along this it was what you were meant to be doing."

"But there was no mission," Thomas said and motioning Peter out of the doorway he strode off so that the old man could only hobble after him.

####

When Esther awoke Thomas was sitting by the bunk, the light from the caravan window behind him making a corona around his head.

She heard her grandfather cough.

She could barely make out Thomas's features and they became dimmer as her grandfather came forward and further blocked out the light.

Why was she here?

Then, like rising bile, the memory of the gory dance of death that Thomas had performed overcame her.

"You should have died," said Peter smiling as he loomed over her, "it is a miracle."

Thomas's face was impassive as she tried to read there some clue. She looked to Peter, her grandfather, and for a moment felt annoyed, as though he had imposed himself between her and Thomas.

"How do you feel?" Peter asked.

How did she feel? She had been injured and there should be pain. Then she knew, but not because it troubled her but because, from her shoulder, the first messages began. There had been a direct laceration of the tissues caused by the entry wound and the resulting bullet hole. This was now healing. The bullet had caught the edge of a socket type bone whose name she couldn't locate but the image of which she knew, and there had been injuries caused by the shattered fragments but these too had almost healed. On her upper shoulder she knew that the skin was different. She focused and detected the air against it, calculating its pressure and temperature. There was also the trace of ancient taints, pollutants and the like, although she couldn't identify them, and for a moment she knew an irritating frustration that she had no data to consult. Slowly she touched her shoulder and simultaneously experienced sensation -- mostly at her fingertips -- and information, calculating the strength of her own touches. For a moment she was deadlocked in a confusion of what could be felt and what could be known.

She tried to look beyond her grandfather's face to Thomas. She wanted to search his features for some explanation of what was happening to her. Thomas moved closer; she held out her hand to touch him as he stood there with his face bathed in brightness. Then he was gone.

"Where are you going?" she called.

"He has matters to attend to," said Peter, "we must prepare. Others are coming."

"I must help him, Grandfather."

"You must rest." He had risen again, looming and protective.

But already Esther was up, brushing down her dress. "There's nothing wrong with me. As you said, it's a miracle."

She left him mumbling as he knelt beside the empty bunk.

####

She followed Thomas around the island as he dragged barrels and driftwood into piles. She still did not ask him yet what it was that he had done to her. Like frostbite it spread from her shoulder, deadening old sensations and waking a new understanding as her nerve receptors changed.

So intent was she on her own inner figuring that she barely registered what it was that Thomas was doing. But when she looked, and saw this heap of debris here, that embankment there, she understood the rationale for the particular defensive layout he had created.

"You must tell me," she said at last, "what is happening to me?"

"You heal."

"It began in my shoulder, where the wound was. When I woke up I understood the breeze, knew the air pressure. But I didn't feel it, not like I did on my face, on the rest of my body. Now it is spreading: this new skin that you've given me. Every sensation is becoming information, I can hardly feel anything now."

"It is good. You are better."

"Better?"

"Than before. Nothing will hurt you. You will move faster, balance finer. If there is a mission and there is combat your body will perceive its place with relation to others."

"All this," she indicated the island and its new defenses, "it's what you do, isn't it? Before I thought you were confused but all the time you were gathering data."

"Protecting us."

"Us?"

"They will send the other, the other that is like me."

"What are you?"

Thomas ignored the question. In the silence she listened as the wind carried the sound of the waves washing up the fragments of a calculation that modeled water variation. Everything was becoming information. For a moment she knew an intense yearning to be overcome by the rush of the tide and the wind, for pure sensation. But even this desire died.

Somewhere voices rose over this and became the discord of an argument. Esther followed Thomas to where, outside the caravan, Peter faced Mattie, machine pistol in his hand, yelling, shaking and angry in a way that Esther could never remember seeing him.

Then as he saw Thomas, Mattie pointed the pistol towards him, realized what he had done and lowered it. "We hardly know him. All we do know is how dangerous he can be. Those men in the garden..."

"Mattie, please," said Peter, "he can protect us."

"Yes from the trouble he's brought here. We should cast him out." There was a murmur amongst the crowd that had gathered.

For a moment Esther was able to construct, from segments of memory and recalled facts, a simulacrum of the mixed emotions she once felt for Mattie. There had been the wanting to be with him, to be him, to be wanted by him; all wrapped up in an anger because she felt that way at all. But looked at from this new perspective all those feelings vanished.

Peter cleared his throat, "No, we will not cast Thomas out," and before Mattie could respond he raised his arms, bringing down a silence in which he could be heard. "Can you not recognize who it is that has come amongst us? He is the Alpha and Omega, the Heir of All Things. This is the Lamb of God."

"No!" Mattie nearly screamed.

Others had begun to murmur.

"Have you not seen," Peter shouted, "the miracle he has performed? My granddaughter brought back from the certainty of death."

The mutterings rose -- they had all seen, but it did not mean they were convinced.

Above the shouts Thomas told them to look and pointed upriver. For a moment they all fell silent, turned to where he had pointed and saw only the bare sky, vast and empty, heard the lap of waves.

Mattie snapped, "What?"

Esther wondered when they would see it, even as Thomas pointed again. But it was two minutes before they saw the speck in the sky moving steadily towards them. By then Esther was already assessing the tactical situation. Thomas's defenses hadn't anticipated the use of a helicopter; the situation had changed. The enemy would attack from the air first, and then come in on the ground for Thomas. What was needed was somewhere to hide. She grabbed Old Ruth, "The church. The crypt: get everyone down there."

Mattie was rooted to the spot and Esther saw panic in his eyes as he became aware of the pistol heavy in his hand. By her side Thomas was poised but she held her hand in front of his chest to stop him. "Mattie," she said softly, "go with the others, they need you."

For a moment he looked at her, his expression confused as though he didn't quite know who she was. As he stalled she became aware of the beginnings of a fresh assessment, clicking away in the background of her thoughts. She was glad she could discard this when Mattie turned and ran.

Esther took her grandfather's arm. "I can understand it. It's not a miracle. The cells are making me like Thomas."

The heavy swish of the rotors moved closer.

Peter sighed and for a moment he seemed to lose his strength. "You must learn to read the book of life for the symbols it holds... Just as Thomas might be the result of an experiment, he is also something more." He turned to Thomas. "You must lead them all away from here..." He bent over, breathing heavily and held out his hand for Esther to prop him up. "You must guide them all to safety."

Thomas pointed towards the helicopter. "The other that is like me is there. He will not give up, he will pursue me."

"I will make them think you are here," Peter said, "I will buy you time."

Even while Esther considered the advantages this might bring, the tactical ramifications, she found herself protesting. "No, Grandfather...." Yet as she said it she was wondering what this old man could do, why he hadn't gone with the others.

For a moment Thomas considered, looking at the steady approach of the helicopter.

"It is not your time to die," said Peter, "Not here. Not now. You must gather the others, they are your people now."

With the enemy forces concentrated on the settlement, there was a chance that they might be able to make it to the mainland and somehow get everyone away. Esther was envisaging the terrain, the positions of advantage.

"It is agreed then. I must get ready," Peter said and shuffled as fast he could in the direction of his boat.

####

Esther lay inside the body of an overturned oil barrel where Thomas had told her to remain. She was still on the island, close to the bridge. Peeping out she could see the helicopter, a black predator, swooping over the huts, the wake of its blades knocking off roof-boards and bending support poles.

Then the shooting started. The helicopter circled, automatic fire puncturing the walls of the huts before it dropped a large canister that spread a series of smaller missiles. These exploded as they hit the ground and several huts were blown apart and the caravan engulfed in a tide of flame.

The helicopter flew away to the far side of the island and out over the estuary to make another turn. Thomas's head appeared in the mouth of the barrel and he pulled Esther gently out and towards the edge of the island, where the earth gave away to the mud flats.

"We can use the bridge..." she began.

Thomas drew her close to him and wrapped both his arms around her holding her in a tight but gentle embrace. "Don't be afraid."

He led her to the edge of the island where the channel separating it from the mainland was at low tide, a trickle between wide mud flats.

Then carrying her he jumped out into the mud.

####

It was probably that they had seen his boat from the air and taken it as just that an upturned boat that had stopped the helicopter from blasting it. Yet Peter could not help considering that he might be benefiting from some other, higher, protection. As he told Esther, one needed to learn how to read the book of the world.

In his hands he held the ampoules that the child had found so long ago. They caused a virulent infection that provoked a violent immune system response. It was this response, the body's own defenses, that killed.

Peter listened for the helicopter and realized that he hadn't heard it for a while now. They must be disembarking and coming in to sweep the area, rooting everywhere. He rose and lent against the doorframe and began shouting. First he tried hymns and then, recalling some of the obscenities he had not used for over half a century, he swore and cursed, making himself laugh as he heard what he was saying. They must come here first, before they found the crypt, before they pointed weapons down at his people as though they were grubs under a stone ready to be stamped on.

The door was kicked open and a black clad figure stood before him, an axe over his shoulder. This was a minion, an ordinary man.

"Here!" the minion shouted.

Pushing the axe-man away was the one Peter was waiting for. His features were similar to those of Thomas, but without the holy innocence that marked Thomas. This then was the final avatar of the age that was passing, the face of Antichrist.

"Where is he?" the Beast demanded.

Peter smiled. "Gone to begin his ministry."

"What?"

"Just as Christ's ministry began at a rustic wedding, so His begins here. He will go forth, gathering followers and ushering in the new age. Your reign is over."

"What do you think he can do to me old man?" the Beast sneered. "He's little better than a prototype." And he made a sound, hollow like a dry cough that must have been what passed as laughter.

Peter sighed. Would there be enough? One ampoule had killed the child and made many others sick. Now he held the remaining eleven ampoules and he began to dig his fingers into their brittle surface, ready.

Outside others were laughing.

"What are you worth?" the Beast demanded.

But Peter was tired now, and didn't feel the need to answer. He knew his worth. He had helped usher in the new age and had seen the Lamb of God, the Lion of Judah, becoming ready to assume His throne.

He clenched his fist hard and threw up the shattering crystals and fragments of gel they contained, into the face of the Beast, who smiled as he swished them away, laughed and began to cough and splutter even as he gripped Peter's windpipe and squeezed the life out of him.

####

Two full tides came and went before Thomas reached down to pull up Esther from the mud where she had been buried. As he cupped water in his hand and began to wash her face she opened her eyes spluttered and began to breathe.

Their reconnaissance of the island found the pile of bodies around the door to her grandfather's boat and this told its own story. The helicopter was nowhere to be seen.

Esther knew she should not go any closer. The fact of her grandfather's death seemed a remote event, the last link to some former self.

They walked back past the embers of huts and the burnt shell of the caravan. Esther saw something sparkle on the ground and made to pick it up.

Stopping her Thomas crouched and examined it, dug underneath and lifted it up cushioned on a divot. "From the cluster bomb they dropped," Thomas said.

They stared at the bright silver bomblet painted with a red and blue cartoon mouse.

"That way children pick the unexploded ones up, I suppose." Esther said and her disgust at such a weapon was something she might ponder and examine from a distance.

With the tip of his finger Thomas pressed a tiny clip on the end of the bomblet. "There," he said, "we can use it now." And he handed it to her, showing her how to operate it as a grenade.

Back on the bridge they crossed to the mainland and Esther saw that the church had taken a hit, and that one of the walls had caved in. She felt no urge to rush up, and abstractly wondered whether the roof of the crypt had held under the weight of the fallen stone.

As they approached Mattie appeared rising from behind a headstone. He was still carrying the machine pistol and he stared at Peter, the sway of the gun like a slowing pendulum by his side.

"Mattie." Esther said, then looked beyond him to the church, "the others?"

"We're all fine. No thanks to you."

"Mattie..."

"It's him who brought the trouble here in the first place. Everything was all right before."

Tactically there was little danger. If Mattie was to bring the barrel of the gun up, Thomas could have got to him first, and disarmed him or at least diverted his shot. But now was the time to think more strategically, to think about long-term goals. There would be safety in numbers, so they should do as her grandfather had said and lead the people away from here. But there had to be unity; they must remain a cohesive force in order to survive. Dissent might be dangerous.

As Mattie ranted Esther clicked the top of the bomblet and tossed it towards him, pulling back Thomas as she did so. Mattie was ripped apart by the blast.

"He would have continued to be a threat," said Esther already working out what she would tell Old Ruth, little Sarah and the others.

"Yes," said Thomas.

And they made their way towards the church.

THE END


© 2009 Gary Budgen

Bio: Gary Budgen's stories have appeared in Interzone, Scheherzade, Focus, Dark Horizons, Ah Pook is Here, Ethereal Tales, All Hallows, Jupiter and Morpheus Tales..

E-mail: Gary Budgen

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