|The buckles rattled in their place either side of his chapped lips- the thick strap of leather connecting the two weighed uncomfortably down on his arid tongue, the mere scent of the leather straps encasing from around his ears to his neck nearly made him gag. With as much of a grunt as he could muster, his pale eyes rolled towards the one tethered beside him- she too, with hair shorn short and leather rubbing into her flesh, was looking nearly worse for wear. And although they were out of his line of sight, four more were strung up- in total, six of them were harnessed to the bone-embossed chariot of polished elm. Not exactly high class, but functional for the hire out purpose that it served. A tinkling sound followed by the noxious tang of urine met his ears and flaring nostrils from his diagonal right; one could help but still be disgusted at what they endured. They were, inferior as now ever, still only human. It had been like this for centuries, ever since they’d first evolved. He coughed, clearing his lungs of some of the dust that had worked its way down his throat. Using as much leeway as was available, he managed to get a clear view of the doorway without stepping out of the physical line drawn on the floor. Unbidden and almost uncalled for, a shudder of apprehension went from those lashed shoulder blades of his down to his hard-soled feet.
He froze, forgetting for once in his life to pay the creature the due respect it deserved, in nothing short of surprise. Or to use a term that had long fallen into disuse, he’d become ‘scared shitless’. His muscles tensed like a coiled spring, blood pumped rapidly to his hands and he didn’t manage to restrain the cowering, innards-protecting posture that his spine bent him almost involuntarily into. What one would expect to be a scream passed out of his throat like a cow-like moan- no doubt, now that one looked, due to the metal ring protruding from his throat. While not a cause for concern, as such, the manipulating device allowed for little more than sounds to come from those forced into servitude. No intelligence would come from their kind, save for those ‘rebels’ who’d formed alliances to provide the nation. Traitors!
Then the carapace-covered tail lashed round to slam into the backs of his knees- the hardened edge bit into the flesh, the miniscule barbed hooks catching onto the muscle and jerking it out of the wound as the appendage was jerked free. Along with this sudden blow was a keening screen adapted to drive the ‘static’ sound in his ears to a nearly intolerable level. He slammed his knees onto the floor as his muscles became of little use, his grime-streaked hands used to make as much of a penitent gesture as he could muster given the pain racking his figure. The creature, a seven-foot long example of the technically known ‘Arthropleura’, merely swung its beaked and incisor-filled head closer to his own. Its fetid breath, with no doubt from its carrion and flesh diet, seemed to roll over him in waves. While its prehistoric counterparts had been, at best, large and omnivorous, this evolved variety had quickly learnt that the easiest meal was the one which had relied too much on technology and not enough on biology – in short, people. For too long had humanity used machines to do their bidding. When they’d first begun to reclaim the Earth (as it was known before the hybrid varieties even came into existence), it had been filled with half-redundant security measures for a technology attack. Few, or indeed none, had expected one of the smallest but most wide-spread creatures to suddenly rapidly evolve, or rather, devolve into something immune to what they had made. It hadn’t taken more than maybe four centuries for all of the wires to be cut, the food destroyed and medical advances brought crashing down around their once triumphant makers.
The Chivolke, advanced as they were, had been presumed an accident. As the legend was put about of a ritualised union, those few of the rapidly-slumping human breed had put their minds together on a more palatable option- our genetics had become evolved enough, template enough for a manipulation. Scientists, several thousand years before the first case, had been considering blending both animals and humans together in the laboratory to form ‘chimeras’. It had only taken a single bite from a virulent system of DNA to trigger the change. Like a virus it had swept through the poor womans’ system, not destroying but changing her own cells into carriers. Some cells became hardened and formed an outside skeleton where once supple flesh had been. Her eyes had gradually become covered in a hardened layer of black, protection against the daylight which the melanin no longer required. While her basic ‘humanoid’ body structure remained, she became gradually more than human. Her lifespan had become although shorter, incredibly more advanced- thus booting evolution into overdrive. It now had a limited time to operate. Her body had been unable to tolerate the physical, not to mention psychological transformation. In an attempt to at least slow down the change, copulation had been organised. Perhaps a foreign body growing in her womb would at least hold off the change long enough for a cure to be found.
But it hadn’t worked.
The child, the first example of the new kind and that one now considered ‘Alpha’, had harnessed the mutated and mutilated genetics present in its carriers bloodstream and became a new breed. The insect that had started it all went forgotten; no doubt biting others in order to get a meal of the blood it still had to use to survive. Our genetics, scientists said, had become manipulative enough thanks to our reliance on technology, to be changed by an outside virus. We should have paid attention to the signs that nature was going to bite back- the climate heating up in preparation for its warmth-loving breed, the man who’d grown bark out of his body pores. That, primarily, should have opened their eyes to the fact that we were in no more control of the world that we occupy than we are in charge of the forces that act on it.
We, once the first ‘family’ unit had been formed, began to almost devolve as our need to rely on nature increased ever rapidly. We became, as they said, ‘Homo neanderthalensis’ – a Neanderthal race. We tracked backwards in an attempt to find perhaps some skill that we’d abandoned, some trait that we’d used to survive that we could utilise again. That failed and we no longer had the need to advance ourselves again. Even if our highest officials repeatedly said that we could rise up again, our species knew better.
He backed off, keeping his head lowered so his nose almost brushed the tiled and heated flooring as he felt backwards with both hands and feet- to raise ones head, even if the creature towered above, was a sign of intentional disobedience as much as it was a sign that you had a disagreement. Baring ones throat was different however. That showed that you trusted another enough to bare your most vulnerable spot to the open. Lower ones head occasionally had the same effect- either that or you intended to slam your skull into them. But, as fragile as humans were, a head-butting contest against the evolutionary dominants would have resulted in a broken spine and a new meal. Its carapace of an armour, tough as steel against nail and teeth, was a biological armour that the breed had retained since they’d first had their rule on Earth during what we knew as the ‘Upper Carboniferous’.
He blinked, closing his eyes yet again beneath those heavy brow ridges, and let the breath he’d subconsciously held for several moments out- not daisy fresh but palatable enough to the nose so as not to disturb anyone. Then a sharp pain briefly spasmed up his right arm, right on the branding mark. After jerking his head up several times to get the bridle to give at least some leeway, he managed to tilt his head round to the offender. The female, as he could only indentify by the circular branding on her forehead, gave what he could only determine as a curious grunt of sorts. Or an insulted sound, however you cared to translate the noise. He returned the limited conversation by stamping one of his feet down and jerking his head in either direction- still, even with all the years that had passed, it was still a negative gesture. Her response was to blow air out of her lips to create a thrumming sound and to roll her eyes. While not exactly ‘pretty’, the woman was something of a companion to our example of the human race. Who, for references sake, will be known as Kirabo. Or in the old tongue of where his devolved form would have originated, ‘gift’. The womans name was unknown to him, so he only used the mental image of a circle to remember her. After all, marking ones self was seen as a desecration of sorts. It wasn’t done. Not even the elites marked themselves- only those considered ‘militant’ even went into that area.
Although it did depend on the mark and the situation in which it was given. His species had no reason to mark themselves- they already had a number and perhaps at the whim of those they were assigned to, an identifying mark usually on the sternum, forehead or stomach.