Tales From The Underground is available free 26-30 September. 'Tongueless Caverns' is a Fortune's Fools short story by E.M. Swift-Hook, one of the stories in this Inklings Press anthology.
It had been longer than he ever believed he could endure. Soraya had not endured it. She brought him food, that last day and sat watching him eat, the child asleep in the crib, sucking her thumb.
“She’ll need a bigger bed soon,” he said, knowing from her eyes that was not going to work. Normally, anything he said about the child would turn her mind from other things. But not this time. So he tried again. “And the new child will need that crib.”
“I don’t want to have another child,” she said, her face set into determination. “The result will be the same, we both know that and I don’t want to condemn another life to… to this.” She moved her hand to indicate the cavern.
“I am working on that,” he told her, knowing he probably sounded sharp, as sharp as his sister. “Without the kind of state-of-the-art tools we had in the lab, we can’t grow what we need, we will have to use live samples. And from the results of those tests, it can’t be done from our own offspring. Only a new mix, a new generation. Another child would give more chance of that.”
He could never forget the expression on her face in that moment. As if something grotesque and hideous had reared out of the ground and slid into his clothing.
“Live samples?” The horror and disgust she put into the two words made Yris afraid. “Our children are not live samples. What kind of monster are you?”
He struggled to understand her anger and shook his head wanting to clear it.
“You don’t understand. Without it, we are trapped here. All of us. Unless we can change the coding in my genes, wherever I go she will hunt me down and take me back and she will destroy you. Our grandchildren – maybe our great-grandchildren – can save us from that.”
“And how would it affect them to save us?” she demanded, her whole body trembling. In the crib, the child had woken, disturbed by its mother’s raised voice and sat up, clutching the side with pudgy fingers.
“I don’t know. That depends on how much I can harvest–”
“You would kill your own children to keep yourself alive?” The child started crying then, great gulping sobs, face made ugly by the process. It was pulling itself up on the side of the crib and wailing.
“Of course. I am the only one who can do this. I am needed so much more than they are. My knowledge, my experience, my–”
The child gave a loud cry, cutting across time.
“You ‘urt me, Gran’pa.” The dark eyes and black hair framed the soft-featured characterless face, which was set into a frown.
“Yes,” he agreed. “I did. But that is all for now. You can read your story.”
The test was quick to run and as he checked the results, matching mark for mark against his own DNA he felt as if the sun was rising within him. No, it was not perfect, but it was adequate. More than adequate. It was the key to unlocking his captivity. If he could harvest enough from the small source available.
With trembling hands, he unlocked the storage box which held the final dose of his life. He had been putting off taking it for the last decade, knowing it would serve no purpose until he had both the tools he needed to defeat his sister and the means to escape her long enough to make use of those tools. He took the final vial from its cradle, each precious drop refined from the stem cells of the embryo Soraya carried under her heart. He had lifted it from her as her heart was still beating, before he stilled that from its useless task and let his sanity roll deep into the wells that sank below the habitable levels of the caverns. He remembered the words she left on the small tablet gripped in her hand: I am sorry, but I can’t live like this any longer.
He used the intravenous clip and felt the life of his unborn infant flow into his blood.
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