Monday, 4 June 2012

The Cliffs of Saa'aar

Hargon walked slowly alongside his companion. He was dressed in the usual attire for such an exercise. His loose trousers and long flowing frock coat covered his bare torso. A white linen he felt was sombre enough for the occasion. As he walked his companion talked.
‘I wonder what it will be like?’ he said.
‘What’ Hargon asked
‘Death of course’ the man replied. His name was Dasghar, Lord Dasghar; and he was going to die. It would be a civil execution though, there was no blindfold, no strapping of the condemned to a table saw or pumped full of drugs in a prison cell lit with fluorescence and pity. No, Dasghar had the right to choose his own end and he had chosen the old way, the death of deaths for those who had finally grown tired of the immortal life on Heav’r. To be thrown from the cliffs of Saa’aar
The planet had been settled thirty thousand years before. A planet three times the size of Earth but relatively the same mass in the goldilocks zone of a stable yellow star. It had been named Heaven to begin with, all that time ago, but the language changed, the isolation of the inhabitants had changed them and eventually the name had stuck at the elongated vowel sounds of Heav’r.  
The planet seemed a vast blue gem from space. Criss crossing the azure globe were tremendous scars of land, only a few kilometres in width, but thousands of miles in length. The cliffs beaten by wind from one side and blessed by sun the other the settlers had soon learned how to grow crops on the vertical drop. But the bulk of their food came from the sea.
The settlers had swept to the oceans, fertile with new vegetation and grains that were slowly interbred to create a new set of cereals and a food stock that resembled what the humans recognised as food. Their actual content and flavour was far removed from what was expected, but they were bred to resemble the past lives that the first visitors to the planet had so longed to recreate on their new home.
Times had changed now. The peoples had split. The farms were still there, deep under the waves, but many had moved to the cliffs now. The mechanised farming provided what was needed for the regulated communities to continue. Great houses lined the five hundred mile coastline of the great northern cliff of Saa’aar. In the prime weather position atop the single feature, the great cliffs; seven miles high in some places just to walk out over them and look down was too much for some people..
Hargon’s heels clicked against the smooth stone. It was like a polished marble floor, the natural top to the great stone barrier cut clean to hold the instiutions of the planet. Their destination from the transport pad was the old execution platform. Built thousands of years ago but renovated every millennium or so against the fine spray of the clouds that curled around the top of the ridge. Hargon noticed Dhasgar stared straight ahead, his lips moving silently, perhaps offering up a prayer to some long forgotton god.
‘You have had the injections Dhasgar’ he said, ‘you understand what that means?’
‘I know full well’ Dhasgar said eventually, his step in line with Hargo. ‘my gene enhancements have been switched off, there is no way to reverse it.’
‘There are more pleasant ways for this to occur Dhjasgar’ hargon grimaced.
‘I have committed an ancient crime’ Dhasgar whispered, ‘I will pay the ancient penalty.’ He paused, as if to say something more meaningful, but then changed his mind and concluded, ‘I have been alive for far too long anyway. I am resigned.’
Hargon let Dhasgar walk a little ahead to steady himself. The two guards walked with im, weapons trained on his head and heart. Dhasgar was a criminal, of that Hargon had no doubt. He was a large man, perhaps two metres tall, and dressed in a simple black body suit; but beyond this he was not unusual beyond the various genetic enhancements that allowed him to adapt to the planet. The slightly heavier gravity, a more developed skeleton, and given the society’s move to the top of the world, his wings.
None would be available to him today. He thought he could see him start to slow as the poison administered worked against his inbuilt genetic changes. Eventually he would have collapsed, had his end not been imminent. Hargon slipped his robe from his shoulders. He was the Lord high executioner of the planet heav’r and as such his was the responsibility to bring an end to this man. He would have preferred it to have happened in a sanitary lab where he could have had more control. He passed the doubts from his mind and took a breath. His chest expanded with a violent force as he felt the bones begin to push out and their centre’s start to hollow. His back arches and the flesh, remoulding itself fell away to the floor in ribbons from his shoulders, three metre long braids of wet bloody flesh swung in the breeze against the faintest of mists and began to harden and grow. The join with his back first before his wings pulled themselves upright, thin parchment like webbing spread between the fine joins as a leathered, almost translucent pair of wings rose from the floor. In a matter of moments Hargon was transformed. His wings spread and fluttered, his reinforced chaest and musculature flexed as he stepped forward, a wing span of some seven metres, he flexed and pulled himself up into the air a metre or two before landing behind the motionless Dhasgar. He folded his wings and spoke.
‘Lord Gazeal Dhasgar. You have been charged with treason and murder and have been found guilty. Your sentence is that you are ended as a sentient being on this planet. You have chosen the old death from the cliffs. I am here to ensure this sentence is carried out. Do you have anything to say?’
Dhasgar stood motionless. He did not say anything but simply peeled off his body suit and stood naked before Hargon. He was muscular but stood with a passive stance, a comfortable one. He shook his head. Hargon was worried. Usually they would speak. Most to claim injustice, some to plead for clemency, others to justify their actions. But Dhasgar was calm and did not blink. He walked naked to the platform:  a twenty metre beginning of a bridge to the abyss. It was made to look like polished stone, but in reality was created from the same plastics and polymers that made up most of the buildings and vehicles. It stopped dead before open space. In the distance he coujld see the outline of wings as people dove and played out in front of the cliffs, riding the winds. Dhasgar stopped a metre or so from the edge and looked back over his shoulder. Hargon walked between the two guards who lowered their weapons.
‘Hargon’ he said, ‘I am truly sorry’.
‘For your crimes?’
‘No Hargon’ Dhasghar said. His face cleared like a man suddenly struck by lucidity while drowning in his own madness, a tear welled in his eyes and he breathed out. ‘I am sorry for what’s to come. ‘ he breathed in as if stifling a pain and put his hand to his ear and yelled in pain.
Hargon stepped forward. ‘what’.
‘The voice calls me’ Dhasgar cried, ‘I must obey’ he breathed in and Hargon heard a crack. His ribs expanded. He was trying to change! The poison in his system had not worked. Hargon’s eyes widened as Dhasgar smiled, a wide manic grin that hurt to look at. Hargon turned to the guards and yelled at them to open fire, pointing at Hargon, but when he turned back he saw nothing but air.
‘Damn it! He grabbed a pulse rifle from the taller guard and leapt off the platform after the distant falling shape he knew was Dhasgar. He pulled himself into a dive and aimed the rifle. A trail of blood lined the way as he fell through the organic spray result of his transformation. The black shape ahead started to twist and turn. Hargon fired a burst with the rifle that flew past the tumbling shaped. He steadied himself and fired again, grazing the figure. He heard nothing, but saw the shape start to slow as it turned to face him. Rather than the wings Hargon expected however he was faced with a changed Dhasgar, yellow eyes and blackened skin, a huge wingspan erupted behind him. The effect was like a brake and Hargon was on him immediately, a last burst of his rifle went through the upper left quarter of the Dhasgar creature’s right wing, it bared its teeth as Hargon crashed into it.
Now more bear than man Dhasgar snarled and clawed at Hargon who could only attempt half-hearted blows against a creature twice his size. Hargon pulled himself free from and stretched his wings out, watching in despair as the creature tumbled another half mile before levelling out. Hargon followed from a distance, knowing full well he had no hope of stopping Dhasgar in his current from. He swooped low towards the sea and then just as he had vanished form the platform, the sea swallowed him up, a turn and a dive and he was beneath the surface. 
Hargon swept low over the waves trying to see a sign of the escapee, but nothing. The occasional movement was no more than a sea snake or the tendrils of the gigantic jellyfish, some several hundred metres across who lived in the deep caves at the foot of the cliffs. Hargon took a final look at the surf crashing against the green and yellow veined rocks before sighing and beginning the slow climb back to the summit of the cliffs. It was not going to be easy. The most dangerous man in a thousand years had just escaped justice, and Hargon was to blame.

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