CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO – THE JAILBIRD AND THE DEAD

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO – THE JAILBIRD AND THE DEAD

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
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Things go from bad to worse...

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   Umbaga was no weakling and his system responded fairy quickly to medicine from the (to him) distant future. He’d been ill before and the feelings of lethargic helplessness were not entirely new, but he’d seen death in others and didn’t fancy it for himself. But he still lay in a feverish sweat for several days before he started making what, to him, seemed to be a miraculous recovery. He’d seen others die when they’d contracted something not unlike what he knew he had caught, and in between periods of quite unpleasant nightmares in which he tossed and turned almost manically his mind drifted to images of others gripped by the talons of invisible devils, for that’s what he thought illness must be.

   Although the strain of flu he’d been suffering from had probably been introduced by Melvin or Aurora (they may well have both been non-suffering carriers), there were other native varieties of disease that had similar symptoms and that often led to death.

   And this was particularly true since the strange savages, those who had come from the mysterious lands of the unknown south of the world and settled near his own land, had arrived. It had been since he had been aware of them and their brutal ways that he had noticed that this neighbour here and that friend there had contracted a sickness, and almost every time that sickness had been fatal.

   And when he discovered, by schance, that the strangers suffered from it as well he put one and one together and arrived at two. They had brought it with them, and it was another curse on them.

   In his delirium it filled his heart with dread, for he believed that he, too, was going to die. Yet the miraculous recovery had come and he began to feel better. He knew nothing of medicines, of inoculations, of future skills and knowledge. It was as if he was on the bottom step of a long, long adder, one that reached to the stars themselves, and Aurora and Melvin were high up, almost out of sight. As he recovered strength he fund himself revering them.

   Aurora knew that it was best to leave well alone when she was sure that the medicine she had administered intravenously was working on the sytem of the strangely likeable primitive Umbaga. After all, she had little experience with any kind of illness and one thing that had been emphasised in her training was once a person was on the mend nature would most probably do the rest.

   And anyway, Gornley needed dealing with.

   She knew that dealing with him was down to her, for of all the people on this planet, so far as those from Terra were concerned, she was the senior now that Stardust was no more. And Gornley had murdered Stardust. That was the only word for it. She had attempted to exercise proper discipline and he had killed her as a protest.

   Terran youth could be terribly hot-headed and arrogant.

   “It is down to me,” she told him.

   “What is?” he demanded.

   “Your future. Your life. For you have done the unforgivable and taken the life of one who was senior to you, you have blasted Stardust and she is no more. It is for me to pass judgement on you and see that the law is carried out. And that law is concerned with murder.”

   “The law! We’re far from home and you talk of the law!” he shouted, wincing because of the pain in his shattered arm. He told himself that he really ought to stop getting so agitated, because agitation made him move angrily, he couldn’t help it, and that movement disturbed his broken bones.

   “That’s why we have a law, as a control on exuberant excess, be we at home or far away,” she told him. “And it is as clear as day to me that you must be punished. You will be put to the Law, and the Law will decide what will come of you.”

   The Law, as she named the process, was a computer program, and it had the power to make decisions, even some concerning the termination of Terran citizens if the crime was deemed by its circuits to be serious enough. Much on Terra was decided in the bowels of machines. It left the humans more time for esoteric thought, exploration and the spreading of Empire. It led to the slow and remorseless growth of Creation.

   “The law is no more and no less than a program in the computer,” he replied scornfully, “and no machine has power over flesh and blood. That’s in your law, and don’t you forget it!”

   “I’m afraid you’re very wrong there,” she murmured. Then: “Melvin will decide,” she said after a moment’s thought. “Either mercy shall be shown to you, or you will forfeit your life before another sesterce is spent on repairs to your wretched arm.”

   “It’s down to money then, is it?” he sneered.

   Melvin had been listening intently to the debate. After all, the lad, who one day may mature into a worthy citizen, was his own nephew, son of his sister. But he had behaved reprehensibly and had even killed a senior officer in anger, and that wasn’t something he should either ignore or seem to dismiss out of hand.

   “You’re not helping yourself,” he advised the youth. “It would be best if you showed a little respect while you still can!”

   “I have decided,” said Aurora after a little thought, “you will be put into a sleep cabin and remain there until we return home. That way you can do no more harm, and others, more competent than I, can pass judgement on you.”

   It was what he had been expecting, but in a way dreading.

   “That might be certain death, if we never get home!” he objected. “I have heard you say that we might be trapped in a long past and never return whence we came!”

   “Well, while you’re dreaming you may well dream on what games you played to bring you here!” she rapped.

   “Aurora’s being fair,” Melvin told him sharply. “If it had been many another commander you may well have faced termination already!”

   It was down to Melvin to escort the youth into the sleep cabin, the same one where he and Aurora had been when their own ship had orbited the dreaded black hole and been catapulted off at a frightening speed. It was there to facilitate total rest during the long periods the ship spent travelling between star systems. It had not been intended as a jail, but Gornley had little time to contemplate that before waves of a special gas washed over him and stole his consciousness from him.

   “You will remain here,” Melvin said, forcefully as he left the youth lying on a slumber-couch, “and be thankful that you still have your life!”

   “The man Umbaga is much improved,” Aurora told Melvin after he had washed his hands. “He will be full well soon!”

   But she was not near the home cave of the sick man, nor were her medicines as Juju and Idju succumbed to the same virus.

   For Juju it was a nightmare. Where was her man, the one she depended on for all sorts of things even though when it came to common sense and important decisions most things were left to her?

   “Juju go for daddy,” she whispered to her daughter, and then she saw how sick the child was and changed her mind. There was no way she could leave an infant who was perspiring like Idju was, and crying so plaintively and weakly, and when she wasn’t crying breathing with a hoarseness that sounded so much like the rasping that Juju knew precedes death that all she wanted to do was weep herself..

   Death wasn’t a rare visitor to the small tribe, and when it struck it was careless of the age of its victims. Children could die with the same seemingly random coincidence as old men. And in recent years there were other men, not like her people but bolder, more vicious, cruel even, who had moved not so many miles away, and it was since their arrival in the territory that an increasing number of people had fallen ill and, after a brief battle, had died.

   Before Idju could be comforted, either to recover or die, Juju fell ill herself.

   In Aurora’s spacecraft there were medicines that could both cure the two of them and hasten their recovery, but in her cave with the first hoary breaths of autumn blowing in, and the certainty that more would come, Juju lay herself next to the infant and began sweating and moaning, begging the spirits that her man would come back in time to help her.

   She looked at the shiny thing on her wrist, the atomic watch that Aurora had given her. To her eyes it was a wonderful thing, and it told her the truth.

   It showed her that it was noon, and before it reached its next hour, before another little light came on, she died.

© Peter Rogerson 07.11.16

 



© 2016 Peter Rogerson


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Added on November 7, 2016
Last Updated on November 7, 2016
Tags: cavemen, spaceship, murder, anger, sickness, flu, death


Author

Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom



About
I am 77 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..

Writing