Right this moment
Smoke, fire, and wailing. The Captain of Yeomanry could hardly see more than thirty yards down the street. The white gas had done its work, and done it well. The wailing grew. Bodies came through the smoke towards him, khaki-clad jawans with gas masks and carbines, carrying people by the scruff of the neck. The lorries were getting fat with the catch. The Captain of Yeomanry closed his eyes, and listened.
There was the crackle of rifle fire. The yells, and the thuds. He could not smell the burning through his mask, but he could feel the heat wash over his face. He listened again and heard the sirens of the municipal fire brigade. Oh, it was chaos, lovely chaos: the kind of chaos that put order back into the world. What was taken with one hand was given back with the other.
He opened his eyes. Through the perspex haze, he could see dust, dust swirling up with the white gas. Soon it was all just dust, and then it was nothing but the remains of a street and the leftovers of a day’s work in the Nampataland, or the Far West, or wherever the hell they were now. What life had started, he had finished, with the tear bomb, the rifle butt, and the snap and crack of a Provost’s lathi. That was west Questers.
Six months ago
The little outhouse had been made with cost in mind. The cheap breezeblocks, put into a lattice shape, were getting old, and the weather had done them badly. The corrugated iron roof did nothing but make it hotter inside. A bluebottle buzzed. It was left to its own devices until it settled on a twig coming through the holes in the breezeblocks and watched through five tiny eyes.
The girl on the table was stark naked. Her eyes rolled back and little pits of spittle dripped from the side of her lips. The Priest ran a finger down her pink and pale chest until he found the place, and then poked at it. “There,” he said. “There is the spot.”
“She is drugged,” said the other man. What was he to the Priest? Few liked him. He had come months ago, with no money and no clothes on his back, begging for shelter. Now he was the Priest’s closest confidante.
“Yes. It is to kill her pain. She is ready for a new life. The girl shuddered, spasmed almost, and then settled. Her eyes shrank back further into her head, her pupils now moons. The Priest drew back her long yellow hair until it touched the dirt. “Part of her must touch the ground for it to work. She will bring life here.”
“It is the old way. The ancients did it like this. They were not wrong. We have strived to plant this land and nothing will grow. This is what the ancients would have done.”
The knife was speckled with rust. The Priest ran it down her chest, from beneath her chin, put the flat of it against her nipples and prayed more, and louder, until he ran the side of the knife down to the point, bringing blood lightly, and swirled it up and in one movement plunged it into her stomach, and began to scream. The girl spasmed again. The drugs had taken her voice. The knife had taken her life.
Two months ago
Vyner Brown took one last glance at the big pile of papers. There was a whole court case there, evidence and all, with the nice big stamp of a famous magistrate. If this wasn’t the real deal, nothing was. He flipped through it again, with one eye out the window; two men were coming with big styrofoam boxes. Lunch. Brown thought about the case, and found himself not hungry.
Missing girl. Murder. Nampatan cult. A man on the inside, from the Provosts, keeping tabs on them. His escape, more than a miracle. The parents, elderly Jacksonville retirees, and their month long appeal to the Courts. How much had they released from their savings for this? He flipped through the papers again. Maybe they would know they were coming for them. Thirty thousand Guineas a piece for the posse? Not that much money for such a job, Vyner thought. But then it was a whole year’s salary for most people. Most of it would be blown in the musky bars of the northern towns, little dens so dark you couldn’t count your money out.
Too many things to think about. As the men came in with the lunch, his computer pinged. The girl’s father. Her bank had released her life insurance. For a moment, he was still. You could buy enough three oh three to fight a war with that.
Vyner Brown of Brown & Co Hunters pinched his nose.
One week ago
The Priest looked out at the faces. There were many of them. Now, they were roaring. He turned to his side and saw his confederates, as white in the face as a Nampatan can get. He said nothing to them. They were not like him. They were tools. Tools run the course of a life and have to be thrown out.
His eyes bulged.
This was not it. Perhaps now his mortal frame would be shattered, but his spirit was more than bone, blood, or muscle. He began to laugh, loudly, and the crowd became silent. He thought to himself: I am not a man, you fools. I am more than that. I am more than you. I am pure cosmic life, the matter of the very beings – if you could call them that – that birthed everything. I am a God. You can never kill a God, not ever!
This was Questers, and this was Nampata, and there was no black bag, and no table of weights, and when the door fell his eyes bulged more and more, his hands behind his back fighting to be free, until – until the God was dead.
His body had hung outside the town of Marjavat for six days, but on the seventh day, it was gone. Words began to fly from mouths into ears. It was as the Priest – now, his name had been forgotten – had always said. He would one day be struck down, but then he himself would return, from the air and the earth, to them, and grant them the powers of the Old Gods.
It all seemed so true, for a short time. The People had slain the local magistrate, that young fool who had chosen to stay at his post while the town’s few burghers fled, taking their things with them. Ghostly chants filled the town’s narrow streets, the brown-skinned devotees painting themselves in turmeric and dirt and taking the day and night as their own. Goats and chickens were slaughtered, each zealot trying to out-play the other to see how much blood they could run to the dirt to bring back their Priest. But he did not come.
The People knew this orgy, this deranged frenzy, could not last for long. The closer they came to cataclysm, the harder they prayed and the swifter they cut the throats of the goats. The God would come. Their God would come.