by Michael Arram
THE GREAT UPRISING
‘So … er … that’s me?’ Henry Atwood peered at the screen of the massive electron microscope.
Dr Tovyan Bošvic of the Universität Wien smiled. ‘Fascinating isn’t it. That’s your DNA before you were seraphed, and this is it now.’ He adjusted the screen and juxtaposed the two images. ‘Just as well you kept that old comb so I got the unmodified sample from your hair.’
‘I was never very good at throwing things away. So what am I seeing, sunshine?’
‘Let me turn down the lights. Now do you see?’
Henry did. Dancing amongst the spirals of his current DNA were wispy golden threads, shining faintly.
‘You have in essence two parallel bodies, the human Henry and the seraphic Mendamero occupying the same space and structure,’ Tovyan explained. ‘It’s as if a magical scaffolding was erected around and within you. It’s how you can do what you do.’
‘Well this is all fascinating, but so what?’
‘Ah well, there is also this. Take a look at that DNA strand. You see? The seraphic strands have colonised the helix of your human DNA, making connections. There’s been transference. There probably has to be so the seraphic Henry can take the human you with him when you leap through space and time for instance. It allows your human brain sensitivities it would not otherwise possess.’
‘I’m alarmed. So I’m no longer human.’
‘No Henry, I’m afraid you’re more seraph now than human. Brace yourself. You’re no longer subject to death – unless you’re killed, and possibly not even then – and you must have noticed the aging process has arrested itself. You’re supposed to be in your mid-forties, but you look to be in your mid-thirties and in fact you’re slowly regressing back to the human optimum age of physical development, your early twenties. I think an act of will now could change your body entirely, the way I once did in Jerusalem if you remember.’
‘I’d noticed the grey was going from my hair. Ed accused me of dyeing it. This is not good news.’
‘Some people would say otherwise, but I think I know what you mean. All you love will age and die around you, but you will stay the same. Not only that, but there will come a time sooner or later when the human Henry will and must disappear entirely. But there is this; if you’re worried about how people react to a perpetually youthful Henry, you can disguise it.’
‘Just will yourself to appear older. You won’t be, but people will see you as you wish to appear. That’s part of your seraphic power.’
Henry brooded. He had half-feared this would be the case. In a bizarre way he felt not unlike he might have had he been told he had terminal cancer. But it was a sentence to endless life imprisonment he had been given. It appeared he had not given up his life for his fellow man, but his death.
‘So my DNA is useless for what you proposed.’
‘Sadly yes. But I’m glad to say King Maxim’s is not.’
Henry perked up. ‘Really?’
‘He was never seraphic and his DNA is more or less entirely human. Thanks for the sample by the way. I’m surprised he gave it up.’
Henry looked sheepish. ‘He didn’t. I got it anyway. He … er … spreads it about a bit.’
‘I read the websites. You need say no more. Now look at this slide. The king’s DNA hasn’t got the supplementary structure yours has; nonetheless he has your powers and more besides, so how does he channel it? The answer’s here. There’re additional groups in the nucleobase linking the strands. This shining one isn’t chemical, it channels pure energy deriving directly from the Creator.’
Henry squinted at the diagram. ‘Would that do for what you have in mind?’
‘No, it would fry any other human body than the One’s. What I want you to look at are the groups coupled to it, the buffers if you like. They preserve Maxim’s humanity and allow him to control the awesome power coursing through him. They’re magical too and the thing is this, one of their jobs is to maintain his physical humanity, but at an optimum far above that of the rest of us. He will live longer than the average human and he will never be ill. Ageing will come about slowly for him. He’ll live healthily and youthfully perhaps for as long as an avian.’
‘Does he know this, do you think?’
‘Difficult to say. His connection to the Creator is intimate and unguessable. The trouble for him and us is the Creator isn’t quite in sync with the material universe.’
‘Tell me about it. The time I talked to Him was like communicating with the autistic.’
‘The Creator often fails to mention the important things, as they don’t register with Him.’
‘So what can you do?’
‘I’ve already done it. Gene therapy has been a failure as a physical process in general, but these nucleobase buffers aren’t your usual genetic components; they will colonise the entire genome aggressively once unleashed. I’ve isolated them and I’m busy replicating them. There needs to be a contained trial once I’ve plotted their probable impact on raw human DNA. I would suggest you ask General Cornish.’
‘Forgive me, Henry, but he is the human most deeply affected by your … alteration. He has to know the truth, and when he does it may devastate him. We can offer him some hope that he will not lose you quite so tragically and abruptly as he disappears down the stream of time and you tread water, so to speak.’
‘Here’s a thought. What will happen to the offspring of any woman Maxxie impregnates? A likelihood increasing daily by the way.’
‘The child will not be old-style human I would guess, and though it would not inherit the connection to the Beyond the One has, nonetheless it will share his physical peculiarities.’
‘Is this the Creator’s plan, you think?’
‘Maybe so. But it would be a very long term and haphazard process if left to itself. It would be many generations before the impact would fully manifest itself in the human gene pool, and on the way some very bad things could happen.’
‘And what about you and Kris, Tovyan? Would you take the same genetic infusion, knowing what you do?’
‘Oh Henry, here’s the dilemma. Do I extend our happy mortal life together, perhaps trebling it, or do I leave things be? I love my husband dearly, but I know that death is not to be feared; that beyond it lies something far greater and it is there Vukašin awaits us. I will talk it through with Kristijan, as you must with the general.’
Henry Atwood MP relocated to his office in the ministry of Media and Cultural Affairs in Strelzen, for he was now a member of the current SDP government of Rothenia. He checked his desk diary and saw he still had an hour before his next appointment. He had arranged the Universe so no one would accidentally enter his office when he was elsewhere but supposed to be at his desk.
He looked at the log on his handij. He found ten recent calls as it synced back with the local network. He was always careful to turn off the data-roaming before his jumps, as a hop to see Ed in Libya last year had cost him an astonishing amount on his next bill from charges he had acquired unawares from the local provider.
One name stood out from the list. He rang it. ‘Hey Tommy babe, what’s so pressing?’
‘Henry! Thanks for ringing. I’ve resigned from minding the little fuck’s ass. I’ve had it up to here with him.’
‘What! Oh … no.’
‘Damn right. Check the Rotheniske Spegele website. Yet another sting he’s walked into. This time he ended up in a Wejg “private” club naked, fucking a woman from behind across a pool table with several appreciative “close friends” cheering him on and recording the romantic encounter on their phones. He was completely rat-arsed needless to say.’
‘And right next to him was Uncle Eddie Peacher, alleged organiser of the sex party, taking another enthusiastic hooker up the ass. I don’t know what he was on, but probably not alcohol. He could lose some weight by the way.’
‘I’ll kill him.’
‘Anyway, that was the final straw. I’ve taken the job with Tom Bernenstejne in Warsaw. My Belaczu’s okay with it. He can move anywhere with Amnesty International.’
‘I’m so sorry, Tommy. You don’t deserve this.’
‘My thoughts exactly. I’ve renounced my title of baron, but kept the Order of Henry the Lion. It was Harry who gave me it after all.’
‘You needn’t have done that.’
‘It was shaking the dust off my shoes as far as I was concerned. Tom’ll probably make me a count anyway. Henry, you have to rein the boy in. He’s completely out of control and fucking up big time. I get no sense out of him.’
Henry hung up, stunned. His worst fears were being realised, and how. King Maxim II of Rothenia was already the toast of the world of the predatory paparazzo: royal, devastatingly handsome, a Peacher through his mother, just out of his teens, one of the most gifted guitarists of his generation, classical or rock, and possessing an enthusiasm for life and women that had walked him with complete insouciance into several stings, the latest of which was going to be the most damaging.
He seemed unable to learn. It was always the same story. ‘I liked her, honest. She was in trouble Uncle Henry, I just thought I could help.’ The helping usually involved sexual intercourse, lurid and hopefully exaggerated accounts of which duly featured in the next week’s celeb magazines. This time it was on video however. But for Henry the concern for Maxxie was more than matched by his worry about Eddie Peacher.
Eddie had split from Tanya Atkinson two years before and since then it had been downhill all the way. Eddie had settled down relatively early and for quite some years had lived a modest life for a Peacher. In part that was Tanya, a sexy and intelligent woman who was enough to keep any same man satisfied, but it was also the fact that Eddie was a serious scholar deeply engaged in the world of literary criticism, where he had attained genuine academic respect.
Then it all went wrong, and it was not entirely Eddie’s fault. Tanya could be controlling and there were serious differences on the subject of children. Eddie did not care for the idea of offspring: ‘Dude! Who in his right mind would want me for a father?’ So – without fault on either side – they split, Tanya taking a sizeable chunk of Peacher money with her. Henry was sorry, for he liked Tanya and thought she was good for his friend. And then Eddie had rediscovered his inner tearaway.
Wearily, Henry pressed the king’s private number on his handij. He was not surprised when it was blocked. He didn’t need his powers to know that at that moment Maxxie would be alone in his apartment at the palace, moodily strumming his guitar, swamped by a tide of humiliation and mortification. Henry went for the next number.
‘Hi, Uncle Henry!’
‘How’s the old school?’
‘Medwardine misses you, Henry. You been on the web?’
‘Yup. Has he been in touch?’
‘I rang him as soon as it got round the block. He’s pretty down.’
‘What can I do, Leo?’
His royal highness, the duke of Radelngrad, went quiet. Then he said something surprising. ‘You should leave him alone, you and all the rest of dad’s friends. He knows he’s fucked up and it hurts bad. The fact that he’s disappointed mum and dad will be the worst: dad especially. Mum will say she understands, but she doesn’t really.’
‘When did you get so wise, kid?’
‘I love my brother, Henry, and maybe I know him better than the rest of you. He just needs time and space, but no one would give it him, not even when he was at Oxford. They hounded him there. It was awful. The happiest time was when we just went hiking in the Lake District together last year. We lost the security and he sneaked me into a pub, then we got joyfully pissed till the landlord threw us out. We were boys together and he had the freedom just to fuck up: it’s a kid’s inalienable right, but he isn’t allowed it. I’m not surprised this has happened. It’s his way of trying to escape his fate. He’s like a trapped animal.’
‘Sure is. Can I come home? I worry about him.’
‘Talk to your mum. Thanks Leo, that was the most revelatory three minutes I’ve had in years. I’ll do what you suggest. I’ll wait till he comes to me.’
But Henry couldn’t just leave it. Besides, his friends needed him. The talk with Rudi was harrowing not so much because Rudi was angry; rather, he was utterly dejected in a way Henry had never seen.
‘You warned me it would be like this, Outfield. Was that a prophecy?’
‘No Rudi, just the experience of bringing up my own special kid, who I miss beyond reason by the way. You at least still have yours.’
‘Are you scolding me?’
‘No Broody, I wouldn’t do that. I have some idea what you’re going through. Was it too bad, the talk?’
‘What talk? We had nothing to say to each other. He turned away when I went to hug him. It was awful. Why does he blame me?’
‘Rudi, it’s the whole situation he’s in. He’s finally realised what he’s lost in life by embracing his fate as the One. The One can’t be no-one, if you see what I mean.’
‘What can Mendamero do? Neither Harry nor I have a clue. I saw bitterness on his face, an expression I never saw there before. It broke my heart.’
‘I can’t do anything till he asks me. And at the moment nothing occurs.’
So Henry walked up Domstrasse on his private pilgrimage to the cathedral of St Vitalis. He sought out a deserted chapel in the crypt which was his own personal resort when things got bad. He lit a whole bank of candles and took his accustomed prie-dieu before the image of St Hendrik of Esterwicz, his name-saint.
Henry meditated on the boy-saint impaled on the instrument of his martyrdom and found parallels. In the end he fell into meditative prayer, and being now Mendamero, things began to happen. The statue awoke, smiled and came down to him, pulling the bloodless spear from his belly. The naked and rather cute young teenager took the next seat. It creaked and settled as if he were really there.
‘Seriously, are you Hendrik of Esterwicz?’
‘What do you think?’
‘You could be but I don’t suppose it matters. I think the Creator has found a way to talk to me again.’
‘In one, Henry. I can use this image and persona to say things I can’t directly, for he gives me an ego which connects with you. The One is in torment, and it hurts me, as I share so much of my consciousness with him now. We are both in pain and it threatens the Universe.’
‘I could obliterate the Rotheniske Spegele with no conscience at all.’
‘That isn’t what’s needed. The One is praying for help to the Creator, but he is the one person the Creator cannot help, so I come to you. Help him. Help us.’
‘Why can’t you help him? You’re all-powerful.’
‘A mistaken assumption many make. I set the rules in the Created Universe – you may say – and must abide by them. The cardinal rule is a moral one: I can only act for the good of others, not myself. The One and I are now in union; he is my mortal self. I cannot answer my own prayers!’
‘So how can I help?’
The boy nursed a knee in his cradled hands. Henry caught his earnest stare and let his consciousness go. He seemed to see not the boy martyr now but another boy, even more beautiful, dancing, but not on the ground, in the air.
‘Fuck! I know what to do. But how do I do it?’
The boy-martyr was back, looking delighted. ‘That I can help with. Don’t worry.’
A surge of power blasted Henry from his toes to the tips of his hair. He fainted clean away.
Mendamero stalked up the Rodolferplaz to the Residenz. He was fully recharged now. He didn’t need to walk from the cathedral, of course, but it gave him time to think and plan. By the time he got to the Brückestrasse guard post, he was ready.
‘Sorry sir, no entry.’ The police guard held up his white-gloved hand. ‘Your name isn’t on the current security list.’
‘But I’m the minister for media and cultural affairs, dammit!’
‘Sorry sir ...’
‘Yeah I know, it’s more than your job’s worth.’
Henry mastered himself, walked round the corner and airlifted into the Hofkapelle of the Residenz. And there, disconsolate in the stall reserved for the Master of the Order of the Rose, was the current occupant of the office, the king of Rothenia. He gave a start when he saw Henry’s dapper figure appear in the chapel, then looked sour. The expression hurt Henry more than anything he’d experienced since the Great Uprising took away his family from him. But that was about to change, all of it.
Henry gave a little satiric bow. ‘Your majesty.’
‘I don’t want to see you, Henry. I don’t want to see anyone.’
‘But the world won’t let you off the hook, will it Maxxie.’
‘Tommy’s resigned. Your private office is snowed under. The world’s press is clamouring for a statement from the errant king of Rothenia, who just wants to be alone.’
‘Well it can go and fuck itself. It and the rest of the world. Henry, humanity’s a vampire and its sucking me dry. I thought you’d be more sympathetic.’
‘Oh, I am. What’s more, I intend to do something to prove it.’
The king looked at him narrowly. ‘Something’s up with you. What ...?’
Henry snapped his fingers and a red-headed seventeen-year-old boy in a suit and Medwardine school tie appeared beside him.
Maxxie shot up. ‘Leo! What in hell. Is this your idea of helping, Henry? You’ll just get Leo into trouble as well.’
‘Nope. This is my idea of helping.’ Henry reached out and seized Maxxie with his mind. His own power was in full force now, and he knew he was far stronger even than before the Great Uprising. He delved into the young man’s body and found it was like looking into a glowing constellation. He drew all the power from the shining points of light he found there and took it into himself, reversing what Maxxie had previously done to him. Then he released the king and Maxxie slumped, dazed.
‘What ... what have you done to me?’
‘You have your wish, Maxxie. You will now be no different from any other twenty-year-old – well, apart from being a king an’ all.’
‘Henry, you asshole! What does this change?’
‘It’s just stage one. This is the clincher.’ Maxxie was suddenly floating in the air next to his brother. Both were abruptly naked, then they arched as wings burst from their backs and their bodies swelled. They howled as robust red horns burst from their foreheads, and two all-but identical avian princes, winged in red and gold, hovered in the chapel. Their skin was red-tinged and their eyes blazed: Maxxie’s blue and Leo’s green.
Henry crossed his arms and grinned. ‘Well, you do make a fine pair of petakhij.’
‘Uncle Henry!’ Leo complained in a new and sonorous voice. ‘This is crazy. You can’t do this.’
‘I’ve not finished either. Pick me up, Leo. I need to fly.’
Shaking his handsome head, the prince fluttered down and took Henry in his muscular arms. ‘Now fly, Leo!’
Henry just pointed up, where a blue rift had opened under the coffering of the roof vault.
‘Is that what I think it is?’
‘Yes, Leo. It’s a portal to the Petakh planet. You up for it?’
‘But mum and dad! School!’
‘I think I have it covered, baby. Now let’s go. I miss my family and I’m not going to put up with it anymore.’
Leo needed no more persuasion. He gave a loud whoop, his wings beat strongly and he surged with Henry in his arms up to the rift. Before they entered it, Henry looked back down to a dazed-looking Maxxie, still hovering below them.
‘Well, you coming?’
Suddenly a grin smoothed away all the unaccustomed bitterness in the young man’s face. ‘You bet the fuck I am. I’m on your tail, Leo mate!’
The small city of Antonsberh dreamed quietly that late summer afternoon, where the white towers of the University were lit up with golden light as they emerged from the home-trees. School was out and the novachekij were playing in the fields of the plain.
Justin Helenson, prince of the royal House Macavoy, was on a sleepover with his best friend, Henry Gabeson of House Atwood. They were pushing the boundaries as usual. Despite firm orders to the contrary from the Queen, they were gliding across the Great River, though their wings were not yet developed enough to give them lift. As they readied themselves for another risky and forbidden leap, they were disturbed by a flock of smaller novachekij bounding around them. ‘Justy!’ ‘Highness!’ ‘Henry!’
‘Oh, for ...’ Henry groaned. ‘Don’t you little ones have any manners?’
‘It’s strangers! And one of them’s a monster!’ hissed a small girl, her wing buds only recently opened.
An older boy with her scoffed. ‘No it’s not, it’s a human. I recognise it from the pictures.’
‘Strangers? A human? Here?’ Justin and Henry fluttered up to the lower branches of a tree. They looked up and there indeed high in the sky were two hovering, horned petakhij, one of them bearing a strange burden. Justin did not recognise them, and that was a scary thing, for there should be no petakh unknown to his empathic mind. As they watched, the two avian males swooped down and settled next to the flock of children, who stared up at them with open mouths. Then, seeing the horns, the novachekij remembered their manners and gave low bows to the two princes.
The human was put down on the ground between the two. He was wearing human coverings called ‘clothes’. He was dressed in blue and white, things Justin provisionally identified as a ‘suit’ and a ‘shirt’. His feet too were covered.
The blue-eyed prince smiled down at young Justin and greeted him. ‘Hi! I think I recognise you. Justin Helenson of House Macavoy, I’d guess. You’re the image of your granddad.’
The boy rallied with some dignity. ‘Yes, I’m Justin, lord of the Riverlands, eldest of the majalath of Queen Helen and so High Prince of the Petakhij. But how do you know me, sir?’
‘Oh, we’ve met, your royal highness, but you wouldn’t remember. You were just a baby at the time.’
‘But ... that means you’ve come from Earth! Who are you?’
‘The name’s Maxim Elphberg. This is my brother, Leo, and this here is Henry Atwood. I guess you’ll have heard of us?’
Prince Justin’s friend’s mouth sagged. ‘Henry Atwood … my granddad!’
‘Well, Uncle Henry, welcome to Shagalot.’
Henry burst into laughter and hugged the king of the avians hard. This second city was even more beautiful than the forest city of the plains, excavated as it was out of a limestone mountainside. The oolitic stone carved like butter when freshly cut, then set harder than flint after exposure to the air. It permitted fantastical pillared and coffered chambers, alight with glowing crystals and figured with gorgeous murals. This was the city Petakhrad, ‘Home of the People’.
The avians could do ceremony well. The throne room of the palace of House Macavoy was filled with princes of the Radkornatij and lined with warriors, armoured in jewelled gold and armed with tall pikes.
‘My turn.’ A blue-winged avian grabbed Henry and kissed him thoroughly.
Henry quirked on his release. ‘I remember that taste. David, lord of the Clublands, if I mistake not.’
The avian king turned to Maxim. ‘So, our royal brother, what brings you to our neighbourhood, and … er, how did you get the wings and horns? They look good on you by the way. So, have you discovered warp drive? Is that how you did it? Here, take my throne Maxxie … no, seriously. It’s by right yours.’
To great applause, Maxim lifted himself up on to the high throne of House Macavoy, and seemed to fit its avian dimensions very well. The throng below hushed in awe as their own king and queen knelt before the stranger to kiss his hand in homage.
After they rose, Maxim addressed the assembly; he was at his best on such occasions. ‘Winged people, Petakhij, angel and human-born! Myself, my brother Leopold Elphberg and my good friend, Henry Robert Atwood, father of one of your houses, have come among you bearing greetings from your human kinsfolk and as a token of the links that still bind our peoples. I don’t know how long we may be able to stay here, but I rejoice that we have come and can renew our alliance.’
There was polite applause, followed by a general move towards the tables. Maxxie was immediately greeted by a fine-built young woman and an extraordinarily beautiful young man, Dana Tsernatova and Karol Tsernatov, their kinship evident in their shared colouring,
Dana hugged him hard. ‘Oh Maxxie, it’s so good to see you again.’
Maxxie offered a high five to Karol, but also got a hug and kiss that dwelled on his mouth. Karol’s erection was solid and large and pressed hard into Maxxie’s groin. Maxxie grinned, ‘So you grew up gay then, Karolescu?’
The man looked down between them. ‘You’ll soon realise there’s no disguising your sexuality and arousal as a petakh. Nobody remarks on it unless they want to do something about it. Interested?’
Maxxie gave him a considering look. ‘Not my scene, guy. But thanks for the offer.’
‘No problem.’ Karol gave Leo a frank lookover. ‘How about you, you swing my way?’
Leo blushed hard, staring at the formidable member on full display. ‘You can get that up your ...?’
‘Oh yeah. You’ll love it. See you in the myelhei maybe?’
‘Er ... yeah. Maybe.’ Leo turned back to his brother as Karol moved to talk to Henry. ‘Maxxie, this place is scary awesome!’
‘Leo, I have to ask. Are you a virgin still?’
The boy blushed even harder. ‘Er ... y’know. In Medwardine there’s no chance, and dad and mum ride me at home.’
Maxxie nodded. ‘Bro, the avians have this thing called the zharpulavnij. Once they’re sixteen they go into an episodic sexual frenzy which can only be satisfied by periodic orgies. And you’re seventeen. How do you feel?’
‘Look at that chick over there, the one with the awesome tight butt. Now imagine her under you, and that monster cock of yours sliding deep into her pussy as she yells with the huge size pushing her lips apart, and your dripping cock ...’
‘Fuck, Maxxie, shut up. Oh shit! My cock! It’s like a fucking tree branch. Everyone can see me! I wanna die.’
‘No one’s looking, bro. That guy over there’s way bigger and harder than you. Look at me. We have identical Elphberg hard-ons, innit cute?’
‘My cock’s on fire. I gotta ... something.’
‘I’m sure Karol would love to help you out. He was really taken with you.’
‘Shut up, Maxxie. How about that Dana?’
‘Okay. Come on over and we’ll give it a go.’ Maxxie led his brother over by his hand to Dana. She turned and regarded their arousal with serious interest. Maxxie whispered into her pointed ear. She grinned, took both men’s hands and led them out of the crowd and on to a balcony which overlooked the valley of Petakhrad, sparkling with lights as the sun went down.
Once they were on their own, Dana’s hand moved to both their erections, and Leo gasped as he was expertly manhandled. Leaving go of Maxxie, the girl kissed Leo hard and as she did she simply settled on to his wet cock. Wild now with lust, Leo beat his wings and automatically lifted to bury himself in her as he rose in his virgin flight. She rose with him, impaled and squirming, her arms around his neck and her wings beating with his.
Far above the city Leo was already thrusting. He came hard inside her within minutes. Then wings fluttered and his brother settled on Dana’s back. She groaned at the double penetration and then it was a non-stop frenzy between the three avians which lasted for hours, as it seemed to Leo.