Monday, 2 July 2018

Finding A Way

I remember playing on my grandpa's island. He owned an island in the South Pacific: nothing too ostentatious, just a couple of square miles, surrounded by lagoons and shallows, easily accessible by yacht or seaplane. The trees were so green; the sharp, fresh scent invigorating and wild. I miss trees. Me, my sister, and Mais just ran around for miles, hide and seek, Marco Polo, and the games we just made up ourselves. Sometimes Mais would argue with me over who knew the most about dinosaurs, but Sis made sure we got along. She was great at humoring me: I could be kind of a pain. I miss them.

Boy dragged me sharply into the undergrowth.

"Shhh. Out there."

He covered my mouth with one hand, the other clutching a rifle. His open shirt and shorts couldn't hide his scars - on his arm, his legs, across his belly. That last wound nearly killed him. I remember desperately pushing his intestines back inside... He let his hair and beard grow out - not much use for Barbasol these days anyway. He'd lost half his body weight. He was staring out into the dead brush. His eyes were wide open, so wide his irises didn't touch his eyelids. Even with everything that's happened, it's those eyes that scare me the most of anything left on Earth.

"Turkey. Two o'clock. Could be bait."

He cocked his head north. I followed his gaze. I couldn't see anything - but somehow, I knew there was something out there. No sound. That's when you know it's a turkey - when you can't see anything, or hear anything, but you feel like you're being watched. There's never only one. Usually they hunted in threes. If Boy could see one, then he knew there were two he couldn't - and they were closer.

Sweat started from every pore. Couldn't help it. Army gear helped with camo, but wouldn't stop those teeth & talons. Boy was dry: somehow he could suppress the perspiration terror causes. He was still. He never blinked. He was almost like one of them - save for the eyes. Their eyes never showed fear. Either they don't know how to be afraid, or they know how to hide it. I don't know which is worse.

It's amazing how quickly the word changed in only a few years. I remember back in the 2000s, when we went from dial-up modems to broadband in a few years. Mobiles went from those big blocks to tiny slabs. Computers quadrupled in power within months. So we went from a world without these animals, to a world we couldn't imagine without them. 

They were everywhere: graceful racers and miniaturized pets; super-powered beasts of burden providing abundant eggs and meat for a fraction of most mammals' requirements; service, police, and guard "dogs" with dexterity, compliance, and intelligence canines were incapable of matching. Genetically inoculated to survive in the modern world - better than natural creatures. No disease, no conditions, no ailments, hardy, long-lived, strong. 

They went beyond the parks and the islands, and brought the Jurassic right into your home.

There. A glint of gold. A slight shift in the darkness. A low growl, like a sick horse snorting. A turkey, for sure. And when even a human can see one, that's when you're in trouble - because it wants its prey to know exactly where it is. Keeps the attention away from the others. Boy kept his eyes straight ahead. I couldn't: I glanced left and right, searching for any sign, any betrayal of the killers surely approaching us now.

The thing about turkeys is you never know how long you have left. They could strike in seconds, or they could prowl in the periphery of your senses for hours, waiting for you to tire. There's no pattern, no way of telling: the best I can think is that some turkeys just like to play with their food more than others. Some are just sadistic. Some don't even eat their kill - they hunt for the sheer thrill of it. Not so different from us, before everything changed.

Kirby told us a lot about the new ones, the ones with quills and different colours. They were even more dangerous than the big one and her pack, the one me and sis ran into at the park. They set traps; they solved problems; they opened doors. About the only thing they couldn't do was hold a gun - and to be perfectly honest, I wouldn't be so sure about that being out of their grasp for long.

Some of them aren't so bad: they leave us alone, mostly, keep to the plains, just hunting the veggies. They're smart, smarter than just about anything else left. Sometimes I think they're even smarter than us. You don't see them killing each other over money or trinkets. Kirby's experiences at the second site all those years ago proved they can be reasoned with. If they can be reasoned with, maybe we can work with them; co-operate; coexist in peace. We have to try, don't we?

My sister doesn't see it that way. She's not interested in making peace with them: all she wants is to kill them. All of them. Something snapped in her, made her hate them all, made her hate this new world. So she rounded up a few of the angrier malcontents in our group, took most of the guns, and went hunting. I couldn't stop her. I wasn't even sure if I wanted to.

The modern world didn't survive - at least, not the modern world we once knew. Animals we learned about as babies became rare, exotic creatures as they were supplanted by the same order which suppressed their evolution for millions of years. Dogs and cats were speciality species - expensive to look after compared to the mass-produced, genetically tailored alternatives. Some cattle, sheep, goats, and other stock were maintained purely to cater for those who miss beef, milk, and cheese. Aggressive marketing campaigns, politicians with undeclared interests, and newspaper magnates with shares in genetics companies shifted public opinion: out with the old, in with the new.

Sure, there were problems. The little ones escaped, bred in the wild even though they thought they fixed it again: started with raiding the garbage, a few pets disappearing, some injuries... ended with small communities devastated and local ecosystems ravaged. Best not talk about the big ones. As bad as the meateaters are, the planteaters are even worse if you let them. After the West Indian Lilac issue prompted the company to make their digestion systems super-effective, no plant is left alone - all food for them. Even a few of the biggest ones could wipe out a year's worth of crop in a week. Australia put a blanket ban on them, but it was too late: no telling how many of them are in the outback. Or the midwest. 

Or anywhere on earth.

Boy sucked air through his teeth. The turkey had stepped into the light. This was new. Usually they lurked in the shadows, hinted at their presence. They never exposed themselves like this. It was staring right at us. I tensed, grasping my rifle, expecting to hear that horrible scream - the last sound. We'd only get one shot at escaping that fate.

But something else was wrong. This one... it was looking straight at us. We heard more noises. It wasn't a pack of three - there were more of them. More than we'd ever heard before.

Nobody's even sure what happened - Yellowstone, Long Valley, the Siberian Traps, a Verneshot, an unexpected asteroid, or WW3 - but whatever did it, did it fast enough to destroy civilization as we know it in an instant. We were so focused on bringing back the dead, we didn't focus on keeping the living alive. We called it T-X. Perhaps Sibo was a warning we didn't heed, a change in the earth's temperament. Maybe we simply weren't responsible with new technologies ripping up the earth without understanding and mitigating the consequences. Or perhaps it's something we could not have stopped at all.

So the sixth great extinction happened, and they got another shot, thanks to the company. It turned out the company made them too well. They thrived in the wasteland as everything else died in their millions. The fallout caused unexpected and uncontrolled reactions in their DNA - increased virility, intelligence, aggression. Wu's monsters were just a prelude to the horrors to come. While modern life on earth dwindled, they flourished. Life found a way.

A rush in the undergrowth. We instinctively shot to the side. We emptied our magazines, but aside from the thunder of the guns we heard nothing. We hit nothing. But something hit us - not from the front, or from the sides. A terrible weight crashed into us, pinning us to the ground. They were in the trees.

We felt their claws pushing into our spines, their heads pressing down on our shoulders. We couldn't move. They had us. But we never felt that hot burst, that sudden chill, that blackness. What were they waiting for?

Before we lost the internet, we caught up with some friends. Charlie was safe with Ellie. We don't know what happened to Gray.

K landed on her feet: turns out she was kicked out of the gymnastics team because she got into a fight with a few of the girls, and... well, bones were broken, mistakes were made, and K fit right in with the kickboxing classes. She asked if we'd heard from her parents: we hadn't. Last we heard she was wandering the wasteland with two of those smaller turkeys on leashes. Kept predators away, human and animal. Those "gymnastics" came in handy, especially when combined with swords.

We really could've done with K right now.

More of them emerged from the trees, those wicked eyes trained on us. Kirby told us about what happened to Udesky. Were we going to be some sort of gruesome trap? How cruel could these things get?

We waited for - whatever they planned to do. Tensed ourselves. Prepared.

But no blinding pain. No blackness. They just watched us.

A sound rang from the trees - one of them, but it sounded different, as if a ghost called. Something arced from the foliage, dark and curved. It clattered in the woodpile, falling a few feet before us. A claw. Turkey. But something was different about this one. Where the living creature's claws were semi-transluscent keratin, this one was opaque, dark, like stone. Or a fossil...

I knew what it was. I hadn't seen one of those since -

"Hey toast. Boy. It's been a long time."

I remember that voice. So did Boy.

A figure stepped from the trees. In one hand a clicker, like the ones they use for dog training. In the other some sort of bone - no, a cast. It looked hollow, almost like an ocarina or a flute. We couldn't see his face in the shadow of the broad-brimmed hat, but the glint of those blue eyes was unmistakeable. He had a beard now - like Grandpa's. We all got really old, really fast.

One of the turkeys snarled.

"Get up. Quick. They won't cooperate for much longer. We have a camp set up a few miles south."

We got up. The turkeys tensed: the man in the hat drew the bone to his lips, and made a horrific, unearthly sound. Like the cry of a banshee dead 65 million years - and it had as profound an effect on the turkeys as it did on us. They backed down - but only out of leaping distance.

We walked away, slowly, never taking our eyes off the golden-eyed nightmares watching us. After an eternity, they gave up. We weren't worth the chase. I dared to look forward again. I had so many questions. But all I could think of was...

"What are you doing here?"

The figure stopped. Turned around. Cocked his head, and glared intently - a little too much like the things that rule this new Jurassic World.

"Finding a way."

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