"First came AIDS, then came Ebola and now XP131 - the reaper's scythe. It's spreading fast becasue it spreads via an infected person's touch. People are moving away from the cities. Already great cities are turning in to empty shells as people move as far away as possible from the thronging crowds. Where will this all end? What would we be like in 200 years?"
"Whither Humanity?" by Alan Jenkins Point of View, July 1998
They stood looking at another sunset, a tired and dusty threesome - a trinity. They were indeed a strange sight on that landscape where nothing else moved. Stunted bushes and rough grass grew all around on the scraggly ground which extended all the way to the horizon with not a mountain or even a small hitll to break the monotony. The tired rays of the sun struck the ground and turned everything a reddish brown. The three men just stood there and seemed to be taking it all in.
None of the three had what you would call a name - or if they had once had names, they'd forgotten them in their years of wandering. Now they were simply known as "Judge", "Jury" and "Executioner". That's how they called each other and that's how they came to be known among the people they occassionaly came in contact with.
The judge watched the sunset with a strange, solemn dignity.
Strange because even the strongest gust of wind suddenly seemed
to chill around him; solemn because even the setting sun seemed
somewhat subdued by his presence. The fiery ball seemed to be
paying homage to the judge, instead of continuning on its
preordained journey, unmindful of mere mortals. Dignity, that was
the quality which encompassed the man. It seeped out of every
pore in his body and seemed to surround him like a palpable aura.
The power of that dignity was impossible to escape. It demanded
submissiveness and this was all the more stranger considering his
He was a man young in years, yet old in mien and demeanor. He was a short man and what was left of his hair (which wasn't much) was grey and thin. His bowed legs were short and seemed too feeble to support his bulging growth - a body which had almost reached the bottom-heavy roundness of a pear. His protruding paunch was ill concealed by his dust-covered garments, yet his most remarkable feature was his nose. It was a shapeless blob; a great mass of flesh plumped down on his pallid face, framed by sagging cheeks. It was a huge nose - occupying half his face and totally out of proportion to his small eyes and lips. He could be called an ugly man without any implied insult and yet, the dignity shone through. A solemn dignity, radiating through the filth and the ugliness, overshadowing everything - even his huge lump of a nose.
The judge looked at the plain in front of him, stretching endlessly towards the horizon.
"Well, it looks as if we spend tonight out in the opens again."
The other two did not reply. There was a patch of desert grass just before them and looking incongruous among all the bleak rocks and stunted bushes, they bore fluffy white flowers. The jury seemed to be looking at these flowers and was lost in thought. He was a small man, perfectly average in every aspect except for his slightly large head, which was topped by a snow-white mop of unkempt hair. In a world full of trouble and strife, he seemed to be utterly serene. His grey eyes had a dreamy look, almost as if he was talking to himself, and his face was calm and composed as he looked at the flowers and thought his own thoughts.
Not so the last member of the trio. His face reflected doubts and sorrows enough for the whole world. He was of blessed by a marvellous physique and a most captivating face. His mass of black hair which curled at his shoulders framed a face with a Red Indian nose, deep brown skin and large sensual lips. It was a ruggedly handsome face and he seemed to radiate a raw animal attractiveness about him. Yet it was his eyes which drew one's attention first. Framed by heavy eye brows, they seemed to be the reflectors of his very psyche. His eyes seemed to speak of unbearable pain and of horrors too hienous to mention. Wrapped in a melancholy that seemed to envelope him like a cloak, he, like the jury, was oblivious to what went on around him.
The judge seemed to be used to the abstractedness of his fellows because he did not wait for a reply overlong. He spoke, a bit louder, again.
"Do we stay the night here or do we go on?"
The jury seemed to shrug off the tendrils of thought that were clinging to him and spoke in slow, halting words.
"There is some smoke over there and if you look at the ground, you will see that there is a faint track over there on the left. So, I am sure that that smoke comes from a village."
"Let's not go in to that village. I am tired of all this." chimed in the executioner.
"But think how long we've been travelling without meeting any other people!"
"Come on man, I don't enjoy what we sometimes have to do any more than you do but we've got to meet people sometime. Think about a bath, a bed to sleep on!" continued the judge.
"Yes, let's go there, maybe we will not have any cases here." added the jury with a hopeful note in his voice.
"Oh, all right!"
The threesome turned to the left and started following the track, which was not much more than a trail made by people using the same path over a period of time. There seemed to be no other sign of human habitation nearby except for the small column of smoke before them and the track they were following. While the other two peered ahead trying to find traces of habitation, the executioner dropped back in to his reverie, automatically following his companinons.
His thoughts flew back to the lands of his father, far to the east of here. That was hilly country not like the endless, shapeless plains that they were traversing at the moment. But it was home. Home where his long dead mother was buried and home where his father still lived. He thought of his father - Lord of the land and master of all he surveyed. Why had he left his father and all his other relatives, all that land, which one day would be his to rule, to wander with no shelter over his head except for the sky and no carpet under his except for the grass? Why was he roaming the plains with two unknown men - he whose birth and breeding was higher than theirs and whose family roots ran clear up to the great plague? Why? Why? He remembered ...
For as long as he could remember he had lived in his father's castle. He had never been permitted to go outside or to mingle with people not of his father's household. He had often wondered why this was so but he was not to know the reason till he was thirteen years old. One day, his father had asked him to come to his study and he'd gone, vainly racking his brains as to what wrong he'd done because usually, a summons to the library meant that he was to be punished for some misdemeanor. His father had surprised him by smiling and asking him to be seated. Then he had talked to him about what he had done that day and about his lessons with his governess before getting down to business.
"Son, I know that I have not let you have the freedom that normal children have but there was a reason. I didn't want you discovering your abilities before you were ready."
"Yes. Are you familiar with the term vampire?"
"Yes father. My nurse used to tell me tales about vampires. How they feed on human blood and how they can turn in to bats and ..."
"Enough! You should not listen to such ignorant talk. Vampires are nothing like that. True vampires feed on thoughts - human thoughts. This feeding upon thoughts is not essential to their growth but a vampire cannot fully develop unless he feeds on thoughts. Do you understand?"
"Yes, father. But why are you telling me all this?"
"Because you are a vampire - for that matter, I am one too."
To say that he'd been surprised is like saying a stroke of lightning is akin to a candle - he had been so completely overcome with surprise that he'd been unable to think coherently for a while. His father had, over the next few months, taught him all about their heritage - how to feed on another's thoughts without causing that person any mental injury, how to guard against being telepathic (an occupational hazard of being a vampire) and how to control his need for other people's thoughts once he'd started feeding. At first it was all such a great adventure, learning a new talent, being able to read other people's thoughts and having control of other people but as the days wore on, he slowly began to be opressed by the whole thing.
The more he fed on people's thoughts, the more he came to realize how basically evil most people were. Their thoughts were always composed of hatred, envy, greed, lust and many other such negative components. Only rarely did one encounter things such as love or kindliness. Then, after he'd been "thought-sucking" for a couple of years, he realized that he'd begun to be peripherally telepathic - that is, he began picking up other people's thoughts as vague impressions - and his life became absolutely unbearable. What agony to be subjected to a bombardment of other people's feelings, day in and day out. Finally he could bear it no longer and he'd left his father, his home and his people to wander the lonely places of the world.
After years of wandering, he'd met up with Judge and Jury. This meeting had changed the way he looked at life. He'd found ... His thoughts were abruptly broken off when his companions stopped in their tracks. While he'd been busy with his thoughts, they'd come very close to the smoke but there still was no sign of any human habitation. The reason for this was now before, or rather below, them.
The plain suddenly opened up in to a shallow ravine at there feet and the smoke was coming from several huts nestled in this ravine. They looked down upon this scene for a few moments as if trying to drink their fill of the feeling of peace and the quietness conveyed by the village before them. Suddenly, the quietness was broken by a shout and then a shrill scream which suddenly broke off. Then the quietness disappeared as if it never had been while men and women shouted, children screamed and dogs barked.
"Looks as if something is happening down there." said the judge.
"Yes, and I am sure that our services are going to be needed by them" was the jury's reply.
They scrambled and slid down the footpath which led down to the bottom of the ravine. While they were still climbing down, they could see that all the shouting and screaming was coming from a knot of people gathered at the far corner of the ravine where the huts ended and the gully went on to become one with the plains. Some of the people turned at the sound of their approach but seeing that they were only three, they turned back to what was happening in front of them. The three pushed through the crowd, heedless of the curses of those pushed back, till they were standing at the front of a circle of people. In the middle of the circle was a bloody heap of rags, which on closer inspection turned out to be a thin young man beaten to within an inch of his life. The people were moving in again with clubs and stones when the judge cried out:
"Stop! Stop this at once!"
The throng of people stopped for a second as if surprised at this rude interruption to their proceedings. Some of them began to look decidedly unfriendly while some muttered among themselves asking each other who these strangers were. A bearded man, who looked to be a leader, turned to them with a brandished club still in his hand and asked:
"Who be you to interfere in the affairs of our village?"
The judge gazed for a long moment at the man while he at first looked defiant and then uncertain, lowering the club as if unsure of what to do next.
"We are men, intervening in the affairs of our fellow man! If it means anything to you, we are known as The Trinity!"
A murmurring rose among the crowd and the word "trinity" could be heard passing from mouth to mouth like some sort of an incantation. The crowd seemed to draw back as if confronted by a myth come alive - for indeed it was so. Word of the Trinity had spread even this far in this latter part of mankind's history when the world was sparsely populated. Everybody suddenly seemed to lose interest in further assault upon the hapless youth on the ground and they just looked at the trio in dazed wonder. Even the man they'd spoken to at first seemed to be unsure of what to do next and glanced around at his fellows as if seeking support. But there seemed to be none.
"Now what is all this about?" queried the judge.
People looked from one to the other but none seemed willing to speak. Finally the bearded leader seemed to decide that it was up to him. He was a thin man with a long face which was covered by a shaggy beared. He was wearing a necklace made of nut, washers and other metal stuff from pre-plague days and this seemed to be his symbol of office. He looked down at the man on the ground, hawked, spat on the ground and started speaking.
"This ... this plague carrier has just broken the arm of one of our workers. We are short handed as it is and what with the winter coming on and everything this will mean that we will not be able to gather our harvest in time."
"Isn't he one of your people? Why did he break the other man's arm in the first place?"
The man looked at the judge for a moment and chose to answer his first question.
"No ... sir. He's an outsider."
Jury looked at the bloodied man - almost a youth, probably barely out of his teens - and the words of the headman seemed to echo in his mind. "Outsider! stranger! alien!" how often had he heard those words in his own life? The young man seemed to bring back memories of his own youth. Strolling down memory lane wasn't exactly something he relished and it sure was one hell of a long lane. His own memories of a youth of beatings and name callings flashed through his mind like lightning across a summer sky.
His earliest memories were of struggling to walk while one foot went one way and the other another - and falling flat on his face. It had been the same with any task that required two of his organs which were on opposite sides of his body. He hadn't understood what was happening nor had his parents who had been simple folks. It had not been he was a couple of years old that he had realized that in order to walk, he had to talk to somebody else and get him to cooperate too. At first, he had accepted this "other" unquestioningly as little children often do. But as he grew up, he came to realize that other children didn't have this "other" to contend with and he was puzzled. His parents were no help. So he decided to speak to his grandfather, who had a lot of books from the olden days and was thought to be a very wise man, about it.
The old man had listened patiently to him about the "other" and about his troubles involved in getting his body to respond properly and then had gone through several thick, tattered books but had seemed to find nothing. He had shaken his head sadly and said:
"There's nothing in the 'cyclopaedia about a case such as yours. What I can guess from what it says about the brain is that the left and right sides of your brain work independantly of each other. Now you may not understand what I am saying but a man's brain is supposed work as one unit whereas yours seems to work as two. Have you told anybody else about this?"
"Only mother and father. They didn't seem to know what was wrong."
"Take my advice and don't tell nobody. You are too young to know what human nature is like, boyo. They will call you a freak, make fun of you, if they ever found out."
He had heeded his grandfather's words for exactly two weeks. Then he could not keep the secret of his strange brain to himself and had told one of his playmates after swearing him to secrecy. His friend had kept the secret for slightly longer than he had and then had told another after swearing him to secrecy ... and so it had gone till it had reached the ear of one of their parents. Action had been swift after that. A committee of parents had come to meet his own had asked that the mutant (or "mutie" as they'd called him) be sent away from the village before he "turned the rest of us normal folks into freaks like him". His parents had pleaded, threatened and cajoled in vain. The others were adamant. "Either he goes of his on his own or we plant him right here six feet deep" was how they'd put it.
His own friends, the ones with whom he'd played daily for most of his life, turned on him. They threw stones at him and called him names. He couldn't bear the pressure for long and he'd left home. That was the last he'd seen of his parents. His lot had been a hard one till he met up with Judge. Judge had already made a name for himself by settling disputes between people because men his natural air of authority made people listen to sense. He had become Jury to his Judge and with the help of his two brains, they had been able to come up with absolutely impartial decisions and their fame had continued to grow.
Judge's voice brought him back to the present.
"But why did this boy break the arm of one of your men?"
"Jay - that's the guy who got his arm broken - was trying to stop this guy from stealing some food."
"Did the boy just come in and try to steal food? ... Or did he first ask you for food?" interposed Jury.
The headman seemed to hesitate before he replied.
"N... Yes, he did ask us for food but we have barely enough for ourselves without giving handouts to all the vagabonds that come around!"
"If you are short of men to gather the harvest, you could have asked the boy to help you in return for food, now couldn't you?"
The man stubbornly shook his head at this query by Jury and burst out:
"You don't know what kind of disease he might be carrying! You want us to let in all strangers that come along, among our kids? To spread god knows what disease among us?"
"The plague is long past. If we do not learn to live like humans, what will become of us? Are you content to live the life of mere animals? What do you know of the suffering that this boy may have undergone? Executioner, show them!"
At Judge's command, Executioner, who'd been silent till then, came to life. It was not that he did anything - for he didn't - but that he used one of the random talents he'd acquired as a "side-effect" of his vampirism. He'd discovered a few years after becoming a vampire that he had the ability to induce the feelings and thoughts of one person in another person or a group of people. This talent of "second-hand empathy" had stood them in good cause when the trio wanted a person they judged to know what their victim felt like. Now, he just went in to the boy's mind, plucked out all the feelings of hunger, loneliness and pain and broadcast it to the rest of the villagers and the result was instantly visible. Some people flinched as if struck, others cried out, others groaned and others shed tears but none stood immune.
The judge's voice rang out like the very voice of justice come to life:
"Feel! Feel the pain of one who has been scorned, beaten and driven away from every man's doorway! Feel what it is like to go on for days without food! Know what this boy endured before he was forced to steal from you because you would not give him a scrap of food!"
The executioner released the web of thoughts in which he'd enfolded the village, almost immediately but he knew that the effects of those thoughts would linger with them for a long while. And who knows, maybe it would make a difference as Judge kept on saying but he wasn't too sure himself. He had felt the minds of other people for too long to hold any hopes of the human race ever outgrowing their baser instincts.
The villagers seemed to be dazed. And they looked at the trio as if they were seeing some god-like creatures. The headman spoke in a shaky voice:
"Forgive us! We now see how wrong we were ..."
But the trinity was already walking out of the village, merging with the plains, leaving another legend behind them about the givers of the laws.
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