Patty was having a hard time getting through to the Mongrel King. The mottled fur on his canine body reminded her of the hyena’s she had seen in the picture books Gentle Gorge would ask her to read to him. His crown was fashioned out of discarded aluminum sheets, a motley collection of multicolored glass beads crudely glued to it.
“Humans left our pack to die in the streets of the world before the bombs, why should it be any different if they come to rule again?” The Mongrel King’s voice was gravelly and hoarse. Though dogs had managed a level of ascension, they’re newly-evolved vocal chords still made their speech sound more like barks than words. Amongst themselves, dogs still used a barked language, though considerably more complex now than what their ancestors had used before the quantum displacement bombs.
“Because we humans are no longer like we were before. Because my brothers and sisters, those of us who are changed, can see that things can never be as they were before.” She had to make him see, no matter how stupid the feral-kind was. She had to bring them to her side and join her cause. As she pleaded, she hoped her unconscious gifts were working in her favor. “The mistakes of the past must not be repeated. Even now the Swine make your domesticated brothers live out the same fate as your ancestors lived on the streets of the ancient cities, and if they continue on the path they are on they will inevitably repeat the mistakes of my species. The Swine already have possession of ancient human technology, the kind that gave rise to the bombs and destroyed the world that was. They are trying to be like the ancient Humans but they can’t see what they are doing.”
After a moment’s pause she went on. “When I am Queen of the Humans, I will make sure all Dogs, Feral or otherwise, are regarded as equals to both Human and Fowl.”
“Piggies blow each other up, Mongrel King then feasts on their soft bellies. I like that. We stay here and wait for them to do it.” Despite his smug demeanor, he didn’t seemed so convinced of it.
“No.” said Patty with a sigh. She was so tired, but she had already come so far, too far to give up just because some pseudo-ruler was too thick to see sense. “You think they will only use it to fight amongst themselves? They will march upon the Feral Lands and subdue the pack, make you slaves like they have my people. Drive you from your homes and take away your freedom. You will be made to be pets.” That last she spat with contempt, hoping to produce that very emotion in the Mongrel King.
The crowned-dog remained quiet for a moment and then consorted with his two advisors. One a mongrel that seemed to have a bit of Saint Bernard not too far back in his lineage, the other a mottled mongrel like the king, whose base breed was long lost to the generations. Among the Feral, pedigree was a worthless concept. It held no weight like it did with the deluded Purebreds from the Swine city and the mixed breeds who aspired to mock-nobility; titles that the Swine could grant.
“Mongrel King smells truth in what you say.” He said after a further moment’s consideration. “We will march upon the Pig City and make our domesticated brothers join us or die by our muzzles.
She felt the tension leave her body upon hearing those words. She had the last player piece for the strategic puzzle she had formed in her mind. She knew victory was now that much more possible.
Patty was born a special child, what was called a Genial by her people, and one of the few serviceable mutations that the quantum displacement bombs had afforded Human kind, though this mutation took many generations to come to the surface of the genetic pool.
Children born with abnormally large heads, slightly protruding eyes and slender bodies, these characteristics marked the Genials out upon birth. Initially thought to have been unfortunate mutations from the war, what few of the first Genials that were permitted to live by their often horrified parents managed to display their positive genetic alterations, their gifts. After Genials are allowed to develop a little, close to the first year of life they will suddenly mature mentally and emotionally at an alarming pace, reaching the mental maturity and general demeanor of a full-grown adult before the age of two. This naturally confounded the parents and caretakers of these creatures, many of which would kill or exile their children under superstitious pretenses; humanity had reverted in many areas to retrograde supernatural beliefs as a consequence of their fall from the top of the species pyramid.
The few Genials that managed to survive in the wild after exile, or again were tolerated by their families and communities, learned to exercise an unparalleled degree of intelligence, far surpassing any genius from the times before the bombs had dropped, as well as certain psychic abilities that had never truly manifested save for very rare genetic outliers prior to the push given by the quantum fallout.
Soon after, it was learned that Genials would only mature physically to about the age of 4, remaining toddlers in appearance until their time of death. Their minds, however, never stopped developing at the precipitous pace that began around their first year of life.
“By the looks of it, I’d say your audience went rather well” said a white avian with a husky female voice to Patty. “I take it the Mongrel is in for the ride?”
Patty took out a rolled-up cigarette from a hidden pocket in her black dress’ skirt and lit it with a match. She took a deep, long drag and lifted her slightly overgrown head up and exhaled the pungent smoke. She watched it dissipate and disappear into the air before she regarded the 4 foot tall chicken.
“The Mongrel King is afraid. What I said to him only brought said fears to bear; he could no longer ignore them once I spoke them out loud.”
The oversized chicken was balancing on its behind, her large talons rubbing against each other. She was sharpening them. They were her weapons, how she dealt death. This particular fowl belonged to the White Brigade, a special operations unit belonging to the Avian Parliament’s army. An elite group comprised mostly of ascended chickens, the species of fowl that received the more sanguinary enhancements from when the bombs fell. Watching her effecting upkeep on her claws, Patty couldn’t help but be reminded of the various dinosaurs that were the Avians’ reputed ancestors, if their lore was to be believed.
“Tut!” a loud voice that bespoke an intellect subdued rang out. “Tut! There’s doggies saying that we’re gonna play with the piggies real soon!”
Tut, the fowl warrior looked up from her chore to regard the six-feet-ten, overweight giant of a man wearing a black jumpsuit. The expression on the man’s face was one of child-like vacancy, of a mind made small by the whims of genetics and, perhaps, a nigh-barren womb.
“Patty! You’re back!” again, loudly.
“Louder, Gorge, I don’t think the Swine quite heard you” chided Patty.
“Are we going to play with the piggies?” Gorge looked at Patty pleadingly, like a child hoping to go on a fieldtrip. His baby-blue eyes wide with hope.
“We are, Gorgey, we are” said Patty, shaking her head with a smile, perhaps at the ridiculousness of the giant man-child’s joy at the prospect of violence.
“Yay!” exclaimed Gorge and he bounded off to continue his cavorting with the mangy subjects of the Mongrel King.
“Tell me again why you dubbed him Gentle Gorge, Tut” said Patty with a wry smile after taking another drag from her cigarette.
“Ha!” barked Tut in return.
Patty was already mapping out the next step in her plan, her expression pensive.
“It’s about time we start making our way back to Oppenheimer Pass,” Tut rolled forward onto her talons and spread her feathered wings, stretching. “The High Fowl Council’s troops will arrive only a little after us if we leave now and make a steady march without having to tax ourselves too much.”
Patty knew Tut, mother hen that she was, was trying to protect her. Genials like her were at a severe physical disadvantage compared to just about any other ascended being and her skinny, short legs were not apt for long treks even at a moderate pace.
“Gorge will carry me, you know that” she paused for a moment before turning to look at Tut. “There is one more thing we need to do. There’s… something I haven’t shared with you… because I know you would have reneged on this entire enterprise and opposed me had I told you before.”
Tut narrowed her eyes at Patty, but quietly allowed her to go on.
“There is a device, something small, but it is vital that we retrieve it” she continued. “It is a remnant of the time before the bombs.”
“Absolutely not!” Tut raised her voice and her eyes steeled, driving hard into Patty’s own, but she would not avert her eyes. She meet her elder’s gaze as she strove to drive the point home.
“Tut, we need this. It is the only way, believe me, I would not have decided upon this if there was any other alternative” she wielded the words like a hammer, each word a strike to break Tut’s stance. “You know as well as I do that even with our united forces – Humans, Mongrels and Fowl – we are not enough to take down the Swine.”
Tut turned from her and walked a few steps away, scanning the horizon over the mountainous ridge that marked the border of the Mongrel Kingdom, as if looking for an answer there.
After a minute she spoke.
“What is it?”
Patty felt a momentary sense of relief, but did not allow herself to wallow in it.
“It is a weapon. I am not sure about how it works exactly, but I know it does something to the Swines’ brains.”
“How did you find this out?” Tut was remarkably calm considering the wild tales of the Brigadiers who had ventured into the Deadlands, her tone as cold and dry as concrete.
“In the old white wall building back in The Torch Lady’s Cradle…”
“Where all the cages and the memory units were from before…”
“Yes. I took some of the books we found there, they looked like journals… there were a lot of things I learned from there. I think –“ Patty paused as she put her hand on Tut’s back. “I think that’s where the Swine first ascended.”
She let the unspoken implications linger in the ensuing silence. There weren’t just notes on how the Swine had been changed by Humans from before, there were other species as well.
“This… device… can it hurt us as well?”
“It can, but after using it to win our freedom, I swear to you on the blood in my veins and the lives of my brethren that I will destroy it.”
Tut turned to look Patty in the eyes once more. They held each other’s gaze for long seconds.
“I believe you” said Tut finally.
“We must go North, to the-“
“To the eye of the Deadlands” Tut interrupted her. “I know where we have to go. It is the only place where something like that could be. Let the Peacock Nobles and their birds wait; they will not begin without us.”
Humanity, having been near or at the top of the food chain and the only fully self-aware species for millennia, was not accustomed to oppression and slavery. The drudgery of being second-fiddle, as it were, to another species, much less one that had been considered greatly inferior.
In the advent of the Genials, Human kind soon found the rousing call of rebellion that had lay dormant for countless decades after the detonation of the warheads. As the families and communities that learned to embrace the mutations in their offspring over the years, they learned that these were minds that could be honed for strategy and, therefore, war. Genials began to take up positions as leaders and soon after began to plan the overthrowing of their porcine overlords.
Humanity began a guerrilla-style offense, making concerted sting attacks in key areas where the Swine bourgeois and political leaders ran their mock-government. The Swine responded with terrible force, sparing none and razing entire communities in an attempt to dissuade any further attacks and force the rebellion to cease lest further carnage ensue.
Humanity, getting its first taste of power since the days before the fallout, was not about to be intimidated. The cost of freedom, after all, could be nothing less than blood.
In the ensuing weeks of the duration of the only Human rebellion since the Swine rose to dominance, the efforts of the resistance were paying off. The Swine were receding further and further into their capital territory. They lost ground by the day and seemed to be finding less and less resources with which to retaliate against the communities as most of the Human population had began a pilgrimage to seek refuge in the lands yet unclaimed by the Fowl or the Swine.
It is thought amongst most scholars that, should events have continued as they had up until that point, Humanity would have easily recovered their status as the dominant species by invading the Swine’s central territory and overthrowing their noble chaste.
Unfortunately, there were many dissenters among the Human ranks. It is not clearly know how treason came about, exactly, but it is evident that the Swine eventually learned of the existence of the Genials – which had been kept secret – and of the locations of all the bases of operations as well as the holds where entire Human colonies had fled for shelter.
In what was a desperate, last ditch effort, the Swine sent their troops en masse to the locations where they deemed the most damage could be inflicted against the rebellion, avoiding skirmishes as best as possible on their way, and began a systematic attack on their targets.
What ensued is widely known as the Great Purge, whereupon Human kind’s numbers dwindled to but a few thousand. The rebellion’s bases of operations were quickly dismantled in what could only have been a terrible slaughter, unprepared as they were for the event of betrayal, and the Genials at the helm were summarily executed.
Since that point, the Swine made it a point to execute surveys into the surviving Human communities every six months to search for any new Genial births and subsequently kill all such Humans born that way.
Curiously, among the Swine’s noble chaste, it became a matter of pride and status to own domesticated Genials. So in many of the purge campaigns, some specimens would be taken rather than killed and brought to the nobles as tribute, thus advancing the offering party’s cause and yielding great influence on their ensuing military career.
It is understood that, in order to cull the many psychic abilities as well as control the powerful minds of these Genials taken as pets, harsh rearing was undertaken by specialized trainers. It is clear, now, that this was a custom that backfired greatly for the Swine.
Tut was already a seasoned warrior for the white brigade, having countless tours of duty against the swine in the territories that were still contested, by the time she had taken Gentle Gorge under her wing. She had become more of an honorary member of the brigade, striking out alone into the wild and often spending short periods of time in Human settlements.
Gentle Gorge was but a toddler when Tut found him wandering near the remains of a settlement that had only recently fallen under the wrath of the Swine Purge. He was the only survivor.
It was clear to her that the tubby little child was not quite like other Human little ones. He seemed rather oblivious to the carnage that surrounded him and, other than his distress at being alone and hungry, he did not seem to register the butchered and burned corpses of what must have been his family and community.
White Brigadiers never procreate; it is not in keeping with the lifestyle. Amongst the Fowl, there are few crimes as low as leaving chicks orphaned. It is believed that mothers who die as a direct consequence of their actions – such as in battle or through simple recklessness – are taken by the Ancient Condor and feasted upon by vultures for eternity in the Dream Sands. White Brigadiers, adhering to the highest standards of the monastic warrior code, take neither mate nor family.
For certain Fowl, especially those descended from the chicken, struggle with their intrinsic biological need to reproduce, making their sacrifice as Brigadiers all the greater. The hollow emptiness in their hearts, however, is never quite filled.
So it was that Tut took pity upon the Human chick and took him as if he was her own and, when brought into the fold of the Brigade, he became the foster child for all the Brigadiers. His name then was Gorge, or so he had said. Gentle, as a jocular moniker, was added as, though the child was sweet- hearted and loving, he possessed strength unlike any other human even at the tender age he was found and could not, for the life of him, control it.
Though all of the members of the White Brigade took to Gentle Gorge, he had imprinted on Tut and would never be far from her for more than a few minutes at a time. As he matured, he became more of a boon to her in both matters of company and battle than the hindrance her was when younger.
It was during one of their short stays in another Human settlement that they came upon Patty.
Tut and Gorge had been staying there for two days and were preparing to leave on the morning of the third day when a Swine Purge Squad fell upon the settlement. In the ensuing carnage of the nightly ambush, they both navigated the chaos in search of a way out of the place, evading Swine troopers where possible and killing them swiftly when not.
The Purgers had already begun to set fire to the settlement’s paltry shanties when Gorge suddenly stopped. Tut felt him halt behind her and turned sharply to scold him into motion again when she, too, noticed what Gorge had stopped for.
There in a bundle of old cloths and dirt was ensconced a Human child. Just a baby, scarcely months old, hidden by her mother, likely, to spare her from the Purge. Tut considered leaving the child there, but something tugged at her heartstrings and she, like Gorge, could not leave the poor thing.
She quickly instructed Gorge to pick the child up and follow her.
Once clear of the conflagrated settlement, Tut removed the covers and had a good look at the baby. To her surprise, it was a Genial.
She thought it a lucky coincidence that they had found her. In the great hold of the Brigade the Genial child would grow in safety; no Swine dared venture far into Fowl country and not one pig would be looking for a Genial there to begin with.
Gorge named the child Patty – thus named after Patty the Firefly from one of his favorite story books – and decided that she was his little sister, his to care after and protect. At first Tut worried that his not-quite-tender ways would hurt the baby, but to her surprise Gorge lived up to the Gentle moniker devoid of irony.
Through the years, as Patty developed, Tut wondered if it wasn’t one of her psychic gifts – empathy perhaps – that had cause both Gorge and her to fall so deeply in love with the Genial child.
Nevertheless, despite any concerns Tut might have had about the child’s physical resilience due to her genetic disadvantages, Patty proved to be as gritty and tough as any single soul she ever knew.
Patty, even as a mere baby, never once shed a tear. That was all fine with Tut; Gorge cried plenty for the both of them.
In the Deadlands, things were always strange, or so Patty had read. The few accounts that existed were often treated as exaggerations authored by self-aggrandizing attention seekers. However, there was something in some of the journals she had acquired in the previous years that she recognized as approximating the truth. She could not say exactly how, or why, but she was dead certain many of the phenomena described in these accounts were factual rather than fanciful.
It was only about a kilometer into the actual expanse of the Deadlands that she and her companions were witness to the distortions in the fabric of reality that took center in all the stories about the terrible, vast country where the bombs had hit the ground.
Dread and trepidation filled them as they traversed the flat areas of cracked, dry dirt. Before them, strange and disturbing things – perhaps alive, perhaps not – would phase in and out of existence. Some appeared to display awareness of the companions, some would simply be there, just long enough to be etched forever more into their memories, emblazoned into their subconscious and sure to become nightmare fodder.
They remained resolute, however, as they negotiated the mental traps of the land. When the ground itself began to change as if alive, undulating in sinuous motion, the steeled themselves and pressed on; even Gorge, who despite his formidable size and strength, was easily spooked, kept his composure, focusing hard on Patty’s back, likely using his sense of duty as self-proclaimed older brother to keep his own fears at bay.
As they neared the ruins of what was once a budding metropolis in the times before the bombs, Patty began to notice signs of what may have been the remains of ancient Humans. Many of them fused into the concrete and metal structures. She could not be sure, but she thought she could feel presences there, where the shapes could be interpreted into semblances of humanity; here a mother embracing a child while sunk into a concrete floor up to their knees, there a pair of legs protruding out of a puddle of once-molten glass.
The light of day was dwindling and she knew it would be wisest to reach their destination before the sun set completely. Even in the oncoming twilight, there was no telling what might come out to set upon their trail.
She urged her companions to quicken their pace and they soon reached their intended destination as the sun was but an orange half-circle in the West.
Patty gazed for a moment at the setting sun and wondered at the tales that spoke of mountains once surrounding this ancient city, disintegrated or taken out of reality by the strange technology of the nuclear warheads of ancient Humanity.
She couldn’t help but wonder if they might one day repeat such mistakes themselves. She knew the Swine would, if left unchecked.
They crossed an open threshold where doors had long been taken apart and been discarded elsewhere. Through long hallways that descended underground into floors of white mosaic, glass windows into vacant rooms and what must have been medical facilities once.
Ten stories under the earth and they arrived at the door to a vault large vault. The door was locked but the box with the mechanism that controlled the locks appeared to be functional. Despite a thick layer of dust, a digital screen with a pair of successive glowing, green lights could be seen. Underneath it, a panel with a series of numbered, square buttons that Patty recognized as an input terminal from the many journals she had pilfered in their travels.
She had a set of numbers she had taken from one such journal. Numbers which she suspected would serve as the key to unlocking the vault before them.
From the hidden pocket on her dress’ skirt, where she kept her cigarettes, she fetched a strip of dirty paper. She read from it as she punched in number after number into the input terminal. After entering the last one, she hit the pound key and waited for a handful of excruciatingly long seconds while the mechanism worked out whether the combination of numbers was correct or otherwise. The vault door opened with a loud hiss of air entering the vault rapidly.
Inside were five pedestals array in a line against the back wall of the vault, a crystal bubble on each, protecting small apparatuses. Patty immediately recognized the one she had come for, the second from the left.
She quickly walked toward it and carefully lifted the bubble, placing it on the vault’s metal floor. Her eyes were wide with wonder as she inspected the seemingly listless, silver sphere that lay there on a soft felt pillow, awaiting rediscovery for so long.
“Is that… is that it?” Tut asked. Patty nodded once, slowly, in response.
“What about these others? Are –“
“They must remain and be forgotten!” Patty interrupted the question, looking sharply at Tut for a moment until she got the desired response from the White Brigadier.
“I see” was all the chicken said, but a smile was clear in her eyes. Whatever the other gadgets were, they were dangerous and Patty would make good on her oath. She would only use the one apparatus to overthrow the swine and then destroy it.
Gentle Gorge looked on from a few steps away, fearful of the item in their midst.
Patty had waited for so long to be here, to finally have the final piece of the puzzle. She would become queen. She knew that with certainty now. She saw the causality of her actions bloom in her mind’s eye, the probabilities narrowing into one bright point in the tapestry of the future.
She took the sphere in her hands and saw the universe open up before her.