05 May 2008

short novel excerpt

This is an excerpt I sent to helium writer's

I should note I'm not going to use the word 'humanzee' in the final draft. It's one of those 'filler' words one uses until something better turns up.

Suggestions appreciated.

At 4 AM, Michael swallowed his second caffeine tablet, a yellow one, timed for release in three hours. Then, he settled down for a nap. The caffeine, he knew, would wake him up at precisely 7 AM-when the humanzees left the pit. Outside, the snufflings and scratching sounds continued. The humanzees kept busy at their digging. Digging for what, he did not know. He felt assured the creatures could not penetrate his concrete bunker with their primitive tools.

There was no moon. The humanzees grunted as they dug. After a time, a pattern to their digging and earth removal became apparent. Though without speech, the humanzees had an order. Like a hive of ants, they moved and worked as one organism. What would they do if they struck concrete?

The creatures left during the heat of day and returned to their caves overlooking the opposite side of the road. Silence. A fair-sized wind blew sand over their tracks concealing most of their tracks. Michael felt certain the humanzees slept during the day, but didn't know if they kept a watch from their caves. He descended the spiral staircase and crawled through the nearest escape hatch. He emerged a hundred yards from the edge of the clearing, hesitated, then walked to their pit.

The sand was deep, but compact enough to walk with little effort. He removed his sand goggles and saw their picks and shovels lying about. Apparently, they weren't too concerned about thieves. The diggings appeared to be done half-hazardly. Piles of rock surrounded holes in the ground, but the holes, some as large as a car, formed no discernible pattern. In what was more or less the center of the area, a large wooden crate rested with two poles on either side. He peered inside. Bits and pieces of an old farmhouse filled the bottom half of the bin. He recognized broken cups, bits of old newsprint-one of the dates read 7 July 1987-a part-eroded picture of an old man and woman standing by a tractor, a Mason jar full of seeds, and a some tin cans.

The desert had once been a prairie dotted here and there with farms, but that did not explain why they were obsessed with unearthing and collecting these trinkets. He trekked back to the escape hatch an hour later, giving ample time for the wind to cover his tracks.

At dusk, they returned. Michael kept his vigil from the aperture. Slowly, methodically, like mice creeping from their holes they resumed their drudgery. Most were employed digging. Some carted of the soil to mounds, and some spent the entire time on hands and knees brushing dirt from some farm artifact. When something was partly unearthed, the brusher tugged until it pried loose-then off to the bin it went. The creatures spent little time looking at what they retrieved.

For seven days, Michael watched and for seven afternoons he peered into their cart hoping to discover anything of interest. He was disappointed at seeing much of the same implements day after wearying day.

On day eight, as he was about to leave, he saw a line of dust on the horizon in the direction of Macrobia. As the dust swirl neared, he saw two heavily-plated motorcycles. Half a mile away, they slowed considerably, and when they came to the point where the humanzee's path crossed the road leading to their caves, they stopped their engines and walked the bikes to the cart. The riders wore no insignia, nor could Michael see if they did as they were coated with a thin film of sand and grit. The bikes were white, most likely, and then he saw an insignia-the official emblem of Macrobia on its side. They were Sweep Patrollers.

One rider reached into the bin, pulled out one of the tins and something else, and returned quickly to the bikes. They left. They were hardly out of site when Michael ran to the bin and peered in. Strangely enough, the only thing missing was the jar of seeds.

"Why does the Prime Minister want seeds?" he thought. Macrobia has all the food it needs for a self-sustaining city-state. He knew from his days in Z-Tec Genomics, Macrobia kept a seed bank in case of another nuclear catastrophe. So, why the interest in 150-year-old seeds? He felt he knew the answer-that it should be obvious, but nothing came to mind.

The answer came in a dream. The Hives were inoculation centers to prevent the spread of the newest wave of virus. The Prime Minister wanted the seeds, not because of the lack of seeds, but because the seeds for the Macrobian food supply were so genetically-altered for maximum growth, they were susceptible to many diseases. He made an intuitive leap and knew a deadly new virus was apparently spreading in the city. Like the Bubonic Plague of ancient history, this new virus had no known cure. The buried seeds would not be genetically-altered, what biologists called the wild-type, and hence were more viable. Michael turned toward the underground bunker. He had never been here this late in the afternoon and felt certain the humanzees were still asleep.

He was wrong.

At the edge of the clearing stood a five-foot-tall young male humanzee. The two eyed one another for perhaps ten seconds. The humanzee cocked his head sideways and approached. Michael sidled his way from the center bin towards the bunker. The creature followed him. No other creatures were in sight and this one seemed unarmed-but was it friendly?

His mind told him no. Although no logical reason suggested otherwise, he thought any creature that ugly must be evil. The Sweep Patrollers seemed apprehensive too. He didn't wait to find out.

Keeping one eye on the humanzee, he carefully made his way back to the hatch. The creature followed, but kept the same distance. Halfway there, it dawned on him he couldn't outrun a humanzee and for certain could not overpower one in a fight. Closer and closer-the door seemed an eternity away. Sweat soaked his brow as he fought the urge to bolt and run. "Just pull the lever hidden in the wall and close the door-so simple, he thought." Moments later, he pulled the lever, the door opened, and he sat inside panting. Half a minute later the rapping began.

Tap. . .tap. . .tap. . .tap.'

The humanzees understood doors.

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