Six years have passed since my first experiments, all tried and tested, failed before the Pareus Scientific Research and Funding Division (P.S.R.F.), in a demonstration that left my subject brain dead. The P.S.R.F. have withdrawn my funding. The Planetary Protection Committee have confiscated the majority of my research, the Parliamentary Elite have frozen my assets, and I have lost my credibility as a scientist…
The Red Caves was the last place on the planet of Odisiris where the Establishment would find him. The caves no longer held the allure of mystery that had attracted him in his youth. The young Citizens of the modern age were not interested in Outsiders. Their veil of mystery was broken when one was captured and brought to the city of Pareus and paraded in a cage for all of Odisiris to see. The ill-fated Outsider had carried a pox-like disease. Now this race of sub-humans was seen as a scourge that required extermination; it had taken place to some extent. The Odisirian government had sent a team of Eradicators to the Red Caves. They had released a poison into the tunnels to kill all living things that dwelt there, and they had erected an electromagnet barrier to keep them from escaping. Still some survived. The caves and tunnels went deep. There were many exits and entrances the Citizens knew nothing about.
The barrier was not a deterrent for Skelos Dorm. He knew how to disable it and once he had brought it down, he waited. Waited for the fear to ebb away. He let the red dust settle on his skin. He gasped and shuddered. He sucked air through his nostrils and shuddered again. There was nothing to fear. I’m all alone. My race has abandoned me.
‘Are we here now?’ said Amelia.
So he wasn’t entirely alone. He had his niece, Amelia. The little girl accompanied him everywhere. He took her hand. He did not want her to see his fear. She would not understand it. She was covered from head to foot in the red grime. He had heard a myth that Outsiders blood made the dust red. He knew this not to be true. But the dust repulsed him all the same. It reminded him of another little girl. ‘We most certainly are.’
They went through the squat cave entrance. Skelos had not forgotten it. The structure had not changed, nor had his memory. He had not forgotten the little girl he had killed as a child. The girl was not much older than Amelia. He could still see her red dust-caked tears, the hole he had blasted in her shoulder, and the red blood.
A minute flare drone led the way, drifting through the succession of tunnels that connected the caves. Skelos hoped the child’s remains were buried under a pile of rock and dust. His heart pounded. He steamed along, gazing ahead, afraid the memories would fester in his brain if he were to stop. The tunnel was more cramped now that he was taller and a lot larger around the waist. The fear and exhilaration he felt in equal measures when he had entered the Red Caves more than thirty years ago were no longer there.
This was a necessity. A desperate necessity.
‘You’re walking too fast, Uncle,’ said the little girl, skipping to keep up with him.
‘It’s not that I am walking too fast,’ he said, picking up his pace, ‘it is you who are walking too slowly.’
‘We shouldn’t have to walk at all,’ she said, trying to tug her hand free from his.
Skelos ignored her. The girl was spoilt. Spoilt to the core. His brother and sister-in-law had given her everything she had ever wanted, and he had picked up where they left off.
After walking a considerable distance, with Amelia whinging in his ear, Skelos discovered the cave suited his needs.
The bronze cave walls were smothered in red dust. The ground was heaped with mounds of rubble. There were cracks in the ground, through which another hovel was visible. The cave was neither too hot nor too cold, too large or too small. There were plenty of recesses and ridges set in the cave walls where he could store his utensils.
He came across an anti-chamber, laden with junk, at the far end of the cave. He thought it was spoils the Outsiders had stolen from Citizen dwellings.
After a swift inspection, he found this not to be the case. Some of the artefacts were unrecognisable in his eyes: archaic, humanoid-made, smelly, and mouldy. He had no plans to clear it when there was plenty of space in the chief cavity.
The smell of mould he could take. Not the dust. There was too much of it. He imagined himself ingesting it and spewing vile red blood.
Amelia squirmed. She shook the skirt of her dress. ‘I don’t like it, Uncle. It’s dirty.’
‘But who’s going to clean it, Uncle? We don’t have any droids.’
‘We’re going to clean it.’
Amelia’s mouth formed an O-shape. ‘We?’
‘Yes, we. We might as well get it out of the way since we’re here. It shan’t take long. You will use rags and water to get some of the dust off these walls, and you can use this,’ he kicked at a rudimentary tool: a wooden pole with a brush attached to the end of it, ‘on the floors. I will clear the rubble by hand.’
The little girl pouted. ‘But my dress will get ruined.’
‘Most likely, but you’ve plenty more dresses.’
‘This is my best one. I’m not a cleaner. Mummy said I’m too pretty and delicate for manual labour. And this is a cave. Isn’t it supposed to be dirty?’
Skelos held up his hand to silence her. ‘If I say you’ll clean, you’ll clean. If you want to act as my assistant then you will, at times, be required to do jobs below your status. Do you understand?’
The little girl bowed her head. ‘Yes, Uncle.’
By the time Amelia had finished, her dress was filthy and torn. Despite her grumbling, she had done a good job. Skelos had pushed most of the rubble out of the cave and into the adjoining tunnels.
Exhausted, they returned to Pareus city.
Skelos was satisfied he could continue his work without the Establishment on his back, or any of the others who conspired against him and had relished in his downfall. And he knew there were many.
He slept peacefully that night. His newly acquired specimen, lay in her own bed, three doors away in a drug induced sleep. Amelia slept in her cot in the far corner of the room where he could keep an eye on her.