by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 23

End Game

Robert and Bart made a nervous but uneventful trip back to Brisbane, driving Jarek's battered Holden, to visit Sanjay and Monique and collect DNA samples. The reunion was deeply moving but they were dismayed to see how their parents had aged. Life seemed to have drained away. Sanjay no longer cared what happened in the world of men, and when Monique showed them their secret hoard of powder and gas bottles, her expression as she locked them away was of impatient longing.

On the way back they called in to see Michael and John, and spent a night in the forest with Peter and Jon, who were involved in the rescue of persecuted youths whose private affections offended men who found it perfectly natural to watch dogs maul suspected thieves and queers to death.

Over the next few years, the others also made trips south, sleeping rough as they preferred, always visiting Peter and Jon. Their sorties into the city and surrounding towns became increasingly unpleasant and therefore infrequent. To a rational man, political exploitation of natural human credulity is a nightmarish mystery. In vain did they attempt to convince the few people they met of the truth about what was happening in their State. But as the elusive Dresden James once observed, When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold to the masses, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic. In vain did they point out to otherwise rational people that if you tell someone the paint is wet, they'll put out a finger and check, but if you tell them there's an invisible god or gangs of terrorists poised ready to strike, they'll believe it without question. The proposition that what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence, made them angry.

Only the government took truth-tellers seriously, publicly cutting them into small pieces and feeding the bits to crocodiles—to the riotous applause of their grateful, god-fearing minions.

The officially sanctioned reason for the upstairs laboratory's existence was researching ways to improve human cloning and, most importantly, discover how to transfer the mental abilities and memory of the man to his clone. In this way the most important Christian Kingdom officials could live forever. The political power of an immortal Lord Cardinal, Cardinal-Duke or Bishop-Baron would be enormous; putting Jesus' resurrection in the shade.

The clone project was intrinsically interesting, and all the scientists had been working on it when not occupied with the creation of Primo and his brothers. Five Very-Important-Men each demanded three clones of themselves, to test how mentally similar they would be to their progenitors. One of each clone was brought up at home with papa and mama; one was adopted at 'birth' by a wealthy family, and one spent his formative years in a religious orphanage. At the age of twelve the clones went to live with their two brothers and 'parent'.

Like normal identical triplets, the boys had developed individual personalities, interests and peculiarities that affected their posture, movement and interests. Physically they were identical, or would have been if they'd all been the same weight and fitness. As for character, they appeared to be identical to their father/brother - sly, conniving, treacherous, arrogant, selfish. Intuitively, it seemed, they understood the motives and plots of their 'parents', whom they then ruthlessly attempted to manipulate. The predictable result being that none were permitted to reach the age of fifteen.

Even if it had been possible to transfer a copy of the contents and memory of the original brain to the clones, none of the scientists would have done it. All agreed that even one of the vile creatures was one too many. Three more of each would be a crime against nature. So when the underground laboratory had produced the required number of healthy new boys, who were now living in the forests and caves on Sebastian and Jarek's property, Sebastian informed the Department of Manipulative Sciences, under whose auspices the research station operated, that they had reached the end of the road because they were unable to come up with a method of transferring memory, so the laboratory would be shut down. As Sebastian had funded the entire operation from his own pocket, there was no need for the government to do anything, but he expected at least an acknowledgement.

There was no response for several years, during which the new boys became new men, maturing and educating themselves under the tutelage of the ageing scientists and everyone else who had been involved. They proved extraordinarily receptive to information, only having to see or hear something once to remember it forever. More importantly, perhaps, they had a natural facility for logic, rational argument and honest common-sense thinking and communication, that would have been irritating had the new men not also been disarmingly cheerful and charmingly honest about what they saw as their own deficiencies.

Mort taught them everything he knew about self-defence, and in a short time their exceptional physical prowess and almost supersonic reactions turned them into calmly efficient hunting and defensive machines with no need of tools other than those provided naturally. Robert instructed them in financial activities, and arranged for the transfer of funds into their new bank accounts once Arnold and Fidel's combined skills in computing and design had created all necessary documentation from birth certificates to tax-file numbers for each new man. Hylas and Hercules taught them to behave, walk, speak and react like humans, so they wouldn't attract unwanted attention. Bart introduced them to the philosophical ideas that had inspired humans but failed to change their natures, and encouraged them to think about the sort of life they wanted to live and how to achieve it, including personal relationships.

Zadig's contribution was perhaps ultimately the most useful. His knowledge of plants, their uses, requirements and ecological significance would enable the new men to maintain and keep healthy the forests around them.

From Sebastian and Jarek they learned about one other important thing… love. 'If you want to be loved,' Jarek advised them, 'make yourself loveable.'

Far North Queensland had been very lucky in the weather. While the rest of the country was sweltering, drying out, being ravaged alternately by storms, droughts, floods and fires on a regular basis, the narrow coastal strip and adjacent tablelands from Cairns right up to Cape York were barely touched. The average temperatures were warmer, but regular monsoons had continued, rainfall remained plentiful and crops up on the tablelands grew constantly. To the relief of the new men, whose natural inclination was to live in forests, growth had been exponential. The entire thousand hectares belonging to Sebastian and Jarek was now a fecund rainforest replete with wildlife. Fine for recreation, but not enough to sustain the thirty new men who now inhabited the property. They'd have to wait and live more or less like humans for many years, because the rest of the vast lands where it still rained, remained in the hands of people who saw land solely in terms of mechanised food production; treating forests as the enemy.

To practice being human the new men went into the civilized world as soon as they looked old enough, and took a variety of jobs including stints as slaves on plantations, in factories or as house slaves. They avoided being sold in the slave markets because their extreme beauty would attract every wealthy matron and many men, who paid good money for sex slaves.

Prolonged contact with humans was not possible because the new men became disorientated and physically ill at having to constantly pretend to be what they considered mentally deranged. Humans were too illogical and irrational. What offended them most was that instead of worshipping the natural world that was their true creator, they destroyed it and glorified invisible figments of crazed imagination.

After their first lengthy close contact with the human world, they would remain for several days in their room, not speaking to others until their brains had processed the cringing, subservient, depraved and unquestioning credulity of human behaviour. After three days they would come out of their self-imposed shell having shaken off their dismay that humans had not evolved in any useful way from other social mammals.

The only major difference they could see between humans and other apes was the intricacy and quality of the tools they constructed to achieve their puerile aims. Beavers would have done the same damage to the planet if they'd had the tools, as would goats and apes. They knew, thanks to Bart, that some humans were capable of thinking of different ways of behaving, but none of these ideas had ever permanently affected human behaviour.

From the age of twelve, the new men/boys began engaging in sexual activity both as a solo pleasure and with each other in the normal way for men. It was another fun thing to do, a way to bond; not different from eating, exercising or solving puzzles. At the age of twenty, Primo's almost invisible vulva began to swell and one day he decided it was time to self fertilize. Everyone came to watch as he stroked his penis, which lengthened but remained flexible enough for him to insert the glans into the slit, whereupon he closed his thighs, trapping it inside and worked both thigh and pelvic floor muscles, forcing the entire length inside where it expanded to such an extent it was impossible to remove. Everyone watched in silence as waves of powerful contractions shuddered through every muscle in his body until suddenly he stopped, relaxed and lay back.

'That's done,' he said nonchalantly, spreading his legs. His penis, having returned to its normal size, flopped out and the vulva closed again as if nothing had happened.

There had been little sensation, Primo insisted; certainly nothing pleasant that he'd want to repeat. Merely a slight itch that had prompted the urge, which disappeared once the act was complete. That was how he knew when to stop.

Several months later the baby was born with similar lack of fuss, and after a wash down and a drink of warm water, began to munch contentedly on finely ground, mixed-grain porridge.

Days, weeks, months, years sped by in a blur, merging into one seamless experience with almost no sense of time passing. Despite the obvious physical signs of ageing, everyone felt the same as on the first day they became aware of themselves as individuals… a common experience for those who are busy and happy in a natural environment, living simply, with people they like and respect, doing repetitive jobs that are useful and necessary for their survival.

The new men became increasingly different from their human mentors in subtle ways, keeping mostly to themselves, only occasionally visiting the humans who were growing visibly older while the new men remained looking exactly as they had at twenty, all giving birth at around that age.

As human bodies aged, jobs took longer, but needs were fewer so life was good and somewhere in all that, Sebastian and Jarek passed their eightieth birthdays. The scientists and lab technicians had also become old and moved away, farewelled with generous gifts from Sebastian, who retreated permanently with Jarek to his beautiful house and gardens.

Their eight friends spent a lot of time with their hosts, continuing to appreciate their luck and comfortable underground dwellings while laughing, loving, arguing, fighting and making up with their partners like lovers everywhere. Hylas was now in his fifties, Hercules at the end of his sixties and the others in between. But unless they stopped to think about it they didn't notice. Long walks and exercise continued to keep them fit, the pools and streams provided fish and places to swim, the gardens produced food as long as they worked for it. Every now and again they'd ask each other where they'd like to go next. And always the answer was, 'Stay here.' So they did.

Primo's tribe had created a secret home among the forest giants, and kept everyone intellectually awake with irregular visits.

One sunny afternoon the peace was broken by the appearance of a black limousine flanked by heavily armed Protectors on motorcycles. A slim, elderly man in a black suit with entwined gold crosses embroidered on the lapel, got out and approached Sebastian and Jarek who were relaxing on the verandah. He bowed slightly. 'Have I the honour of speaking to Sebastian Trovert?'

'You have.'

'The gentleman in the limousine is Cardinal Duke Dominic; he wishes to speak with you,'

'He may.'

'You can't expect him to come to you! You must go to him, and please call him Brother Dominic, not your Eminence; he has taken a vow of modesty, you see.'

'I suppose that's why he's being chauffeured in a giant black limousine, and has a servant to demand my presence. How can I resist such charming modesty?' Sebastian and Jarek stood.

'I'm sorry, but only Mr. Trovert may come.'

Jarek began to object.

'It's Ok, Jarek. Brother Dominic is a man of God; if I'm not safe with him, I'm safe with no one.'

'You're safe with no one then,' Jarek muttered to their retreating backs.

When they arrived at the enormous vehicle, which was now surrounded by eight fully armed Protectors, guns at the ready, the rear door opened and an oleaginous voice invited Sebastian into the lounge-like interior that contained two arm chairs, a cocktail bar, television, small bookshelf and desk.

Brother Dominic, a gargantuan man swathed in black robes, was leaning back in his armchair. He looked Sebastian up and down critically.

'You look starving.'

'You look unwholesomely obese.'

Brother Dominic smiled, showing small, pointed teeth. 'Thank you for that, it makes what I have to say a pleasure rather than a duty.' He cleared his throat. 'It has come to my attention that you have been using your laboratories for ungodly purposes, so they will be destroyed.'

Sebastian nodded thoughtfully. 'I fully agree, the idea of cloning those unpleasant men was indeed ungodly, I'm very pleased we were unable to succeed.'

'Where you failed, others will succeed, those researches are god's will and are continuing at another laboratory. I was referring to your attempt at playing god.'

'Which god would that be? Humans have worshipped so many.'

'I warn you not to try my patience, Mr. Trovert. We have evidence that you have been creating other life forms that resemble humans.'

'You resemble a human, Brother D, but I assure you we'd never want to create anything like you.'

'I warned you,' he hissed, then coughed, spraying sputum over the window between him and the driver who was sitting stolidly behind the wheel. 'We know you've been flouting god's law in that place and it will be destroyed and the land taken as payment of the fine.'


'You have two weeks to lodge an objection.'

'Oh, I've no objection. The place is old and needs to come down, you'll save me the fuss.' He leaned forward, ready to leave. 'If that's all, then I'll be off.'

For once lost for words, brother Dominic glared venomously at the lean old man striding easily up the drive towards the house and his friend.

Dominic had no friends. He told himself he didn't need them; he had God. Other people would get in the way of his power, influence and promotion. To become Cardinal King was his aim. A title not yet awarded, but he'd deserve it and get it or he wasn't the man he thought he was.

The friends had been summoned to Sebastian and Jarek's verandah.

After a few minutes small talk Sebastian stated bluntly, 'We've two weeks before they blow up the laboratory and eliminate Jarek and me. You'd better all leave while you have time—unless you want to join us.' He smiled wryly. 'Do you need any help getting shifted?'

'No, we're fine, thanks.' Hercules replied softly. 'It's strange… we've been expecting this for several years, yet it's still a shock. Is everything settled with Primo and his clan?'

'Yes, no problem. I transferred ownership of everything apart from the laboratory to Primo and the other new men under their legal names, immediately after writing to the government to say we wouldn't be continuing with the cloning program. Thanks to one of the new men's brilliant hacking skills, there's now no record in any government office of my having owned this land; it's been theirs or their parents since it was first surveyed, so there'll be no problems with them continuing to live here. Today Jarek and I will transfer all our money to their accounts, and close ours, so when brother Dominic arrives to gloat we'll be able to leave with no fears for the new men's futures.'

'By leave, you mean?'

'Yes, we both reckon eighty-whatever we are has been quite long enough. Are you sure you're ready?'

'Yes, we'll pack up the few things we want to keep and take up Peter and Jon's invitation to move onto their land. They've loads of space and we thought we'd build underground again as it's so comfortable.'

'When will you leave?'

'Next week, probably—after we've bought suitably unostentatious vehicles.'

'We might be a bit later,' Fidel said. 'Arnold and I want to dismantle some of the equipment at the laboratory and take it with us for a few projects we've got in mind. It'll take us at least a week to pack and load into a van we've yet to buy.'

'Well, don't leave it too late. Brother Dominic is the most unpleasant man I've met for a long time. I wouldn't trust him not to arrive early in the hope of catching someone.'

'Thanks for the warning. Lindoro still keeps a watch on the place, doesn't he? So I'll get him to warn us if anyone arrives.'

'Good old Lindoro. With a name like that he ought to be an opera singer instead of a night watchman. He's been so reliable. Eyes always open and he's never once asked what we do down at the labs. I hope Dominic lets him remain in the gatehouse.'

Days flashed by and suddenly Hercules, Hylas, Mort, Zadig, Robert and Bart were shaking everyone's hands and unashamedly shedding tears of farewell.

Two days later, Fidel and Arnold were also on their way when Arnold remembered an essential tool he'd left behind in the bottom lab. They drove to the Institute, and while Arnold trotted down the drive to the labs, waving to Lindoro as he passed, Fidel saved time by driving to the nearest petrol station to fill up the tank.

Arnold retrieved the tool and was locking the main entrance door when a large demolition truck backed towards him stopping only metres away. A Protector in full uniform leaned out the passenger window.

'Who the fuck are you?'

'I used to work here.'

'I asked who the fuck you are!' the man snarled, pointing a large handgun at Arnold's chest.

'The name's Arnold,' he said nervously. 'I didn't realise I wasn't allowed here.'

'Well now you know, so get back inside and wait for me so I can check your papers.'

Arnold nodded, returned inside. As soon as he was out of sight, he disappeared.

The Protector followed him in, didn't see him, so returned to the driveway. When the other vehicles arrived he marched up to the black stretch limousine and informed Brother Dominic that a worker called Arnold was somewhere in the building.

'Arnold!' the priest screeched. 'A worker from this place! Get him! Guard every exit! All of you find this man and bring him to me. I must have him! A reward to whoever brings him to me alive.'

The search was thorough, but unsuccessful.

'He must be hiding somewhere in the building,' the Protector insisted, 'because all exits were locked and undamaged.'

'He's trapped,' Dominic said, nodding his pleasure. "Blow the place up immediately before he escapes! If I can't have him alive I'll make sure he's dead.'

While preparations were made, he lowered himself onto on a chair that had been placed for him by a young acolyte, who then held a sun umbrella to shield the holy head from the heat. The priest was not happy at missing the worker, but at least he knew the man's name. Arnold. He'd tell that smarmy Sebastian Trovert that he'd caught him and forced him to admit what they'd been doing in the laboratory. The thought brought a thin smile to his face. Yes, he would compose a confession, have it witnessed and then his case against the laboratory would be rock solid.

After a few minutes he became bored, then nervous, recalling a few disastrous demolitions that had killed workers and observers.

'I haven't got all day to wait for you sluggards,' he snarled, standing and waving his stick at the workmen. 'Make sure there's nothing left to salvage, or tomorrow there'll be nothing left of you.' His twisted smile, more venomous than his customary frown, underlined the threat. Ignoring the nervous nods of his sweating acolytes, he turned, raised an imperial finger in warning and waddled back to his limousine, slashing the air with his stick to ward off mute offers of assistance from heavily armed bodyguards.

After passing silently through the gates, the black car stopped to allow the priest to gaze back through tinted windows, well out of harm's way. Impassive, he watched until the splendid old buildings and the gymnasium block exploded in a gigantic fireball that briefly rivalled the sun. This wasn't the first such establishment he'd had the pleasure of demolishing, and wouldn't be the last. Releasing a wheezy sigh of satisfaction he nodded slightly and chewed thoughtfully on his bottom lip. There were few pleasures to match erasing the stench of blasphemy, nonconformist freethinking tolerance, and secretive research by ungodly intellectuals bent on disrupting god's plans. He tapped on the bulletproof glass and the chauffeur drove smoothly away, leaving the once grand edifice's executioners to ensure all had been destroyed.

Fidel had returned in time to see the black limousine turn into the drive and disappear. With a pounding heart he parked a hundred metres from the gate, watching in horror as several demolition lorries and a Protector Wagon followed it in and down to the laboratories. Where was Arnold? It would be suicide for Fidel to go down and look. Surely he hadn't been caught? The idea didn't bear thinking about. But of course he could think of nothing else. If he went down and was caught, but Arnold hadn't been caught, then it'd be insane. If Arnold had been caught, then him running into the lion's mouth wouldn't be much use. The trucks and workmen were now completely hidden from the road, but surely Arnold had seen them coming and escaped? Perhaps he was just waiting for them to go away and would return. The urge to do something was powerful, but when he asked himself what Primo would do, Fidel realised his only rational option was to sit tight and wait.

After an age the large black car drove away, stopped, and then the ground shuddered, the air pulsed and Fidel's heart and brain stopped. The fireball. The smoke cloud. His heart emptied. In cold numbness he sat, not wanting to think, to live, to do anything. If Arnold wasn't with him his life had no point. No reason. Time passed and the trucks eventually left. And still Fidel sat. Then Lindoro drove out in his car, but before Fidel could get out and stop him to see if he knew anything, he'd driven away in the opposite direction.

In utter despair, tears streaming, Fidel stumbled blindly down the drive and wandered like a mad man around the smoking, stinking rubble of the old gymnasium towards the cottages that for some reason the mad priest had not bothered to destroy.

Arnold had kept his wits about him and used the escape tunnel from the lower lab, from where he'd crawled as far as he could before hiding face down in long grass and grevillea bushes, not daring to even raise a finger. The wait was terrible as his head filled with images of Fidel arriving back and driving down into the arms of the mad priest. Worse, he'd not guess Arnold had escaped and would try to rescue him. When the explosion blasted the entire structure to fragments, Arnold waited for the dust to settle and his ears to function again before crawling close enough to see the workers. Then he waited for what seemed like hours until the last truck left, before negotiating the rubble, watching carefully in case they'd left a sentry.

Someone moved up ahead. He pulled back. Looked again, then with a whimper of relief ran towards Fidel, the only person on the planet he could never live without.

If you'd like to know what happened next, and if Primo and friends managed to survive, you'll find the answers in my next offering - NumbaCruncha.

Thanks for reading Fidel. If you enjoyed it, please recommend it to other readers, and if the urge to communicate overtakes you: please let me know, I respond to all emails and enjoy hearing from readers.

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