It is taking a lot longer than usual to complete this anthology. So many distractions, and I still have no functioning vehicle either. So I thought I’d put my story up for a bit of light reading in these dark times.
It follows on from last year’s Spring story, Pandora’s Lost Luggage, which gives some background to this one. Hopefully it’s clear on its own though. This one is in Tales from Loch Doon : the eleventh Underdog Anthology.
The Masters Return
“So, Mr. Moors, you have something for me?” Bill Richards’ pen was poised eagerly over his notebook.
John Moors smiled around his cigarette. These reporters, so eager to make a name for themselves. They never check anything if the story is sensational enough.
“I do.” He pushed an envelope across the table, avoiding the wet rings left by their beer glasses.
Richards opened the envelope and studied the photographs inside. His nose wrinkled. “Empty shelves?”
Moors stubbed out his cigarette. “Note that further along, the shelves are full. It seems people are panic buying toilet paper in response to a pandemic of a respiratory virus. Why? No idea, it makes no sense, but they are. Could make a good story.”
“Hmm.” Richards raised one eyebrow. “There is talk of a lockdown because of the virus. People won’t be able to go shopping. I guess they’re stocking up.”
“I’m sure they are. They are buying up dry foods like rice and pasta too. I’m afraid I have no photographs of those shelves though. Although I’m sure you’ll get some in a few days.” Moors kept his smile tight. This is going to be far too easy.
“Could be national news. How much for the photos?”
Moors waved his hand and tried not to laugh aloud. “No charge. Call it my contribution to public service. Anonymous, of course. Would you like another beer?”
“That’s very generous.” Richards rose to his feet. “I’ll pass on the beer, thanks. I have to get this written up in time for tomorrow’s papers.”
“I understand. Good luck, Mr. Richards.” As Richards disappeared, Moors pulled out his phone. He could now let his brother Dolos leave the body of that shop cleaner.
He hated it in there anyway. Dolos would be much happier, and much more effective, in debunking the cure for the virus. If they have a cure they won’t need a vaccine and then they won’t accept the microchips.
Billionaire businessman and occultist Erasmus Blackthorn drummed his fingers on his wide, and largely empty, desk. Opposite sat Professor Christopher Rooke, his face pale and drawn.
“Can we stop him?” Rooke eyed the glass of whisky in front of him but made no move to touch it.
Blackthorn lifted his own glass and took a sip before replying. “No.”
“I don’t get it.” Rooke’s head slumped. “It’s been a year and we’re no closer at all.”
“We are dealing with something very, very old. Something that is well practised in this art.” Blackthorn took a deep breath. “He’s playing a complex game this time. He started out demonising smoking and drinking and we all thought it was just the Puritans back again. Then he latched onto the climate change game. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, he has people hoarding toilet paper, pasta and canned beans. It’s very hard to connect the dots.”
“How is he doing this so fast?” Rooke’s fingers curled around his glass. “We know he has his siblings helping, but even so…”
“Last time, he didn’t have the Internet. It’s been so much easier this time. He has gone so much further, so much faster.”
“He can’t be using the internet.” Rooke’s hand lifted his glass. “There wasn’t even electricity when he was last out. How can he even know about it?”
“There was, you know. That whole civilisation, all it had learned and developed, disappeared.” Blackthorn refilled his own glass. “Almost entirely. And this new flu virus is the opportunity he has waited for. Or perhaps engineered.”
“Engineered? Do we even know what he’s doing?” Rooke took a deep drink of his whisky. “I mean, what’s with the toilet paper thing? He has everyone buying it up, and pasta and rice and pretty much everything. There’s no shortage, they’re just stripping it out before the shops can restock.”
“It feels like the first phase.” Blackthorn stared into his glass. “But it’s not.”
“Hell no. Since the excavations I paid for last year discovered Moros’ escape, we now know he has been out for quite some time. His brothers and sisters will all be out too.” Blackthorn placed his glass on the table. “I have done considerable research in the occult aspects of this in the past year, as, I hope, have you and your colleagues on the science side. You have no doubt come across one of his sisters? Ker?”
Rooke’s eyes widened. “The bringer of violent death, often through incurable illness.”
Blackthorn nodded. “So I don’t think the current plague is entirely accidental.”
Moros grinned at his computer monitor. The quarantine had extended to closing the pubs, clubs, restaurants and all places of mass gathering. As he had expected. Governments in this modern age were no different to governments of the past.
Humans, even this variant type, are entirely predictable things.
Now the alcohol hoarding would begin, along with the soaps, dry goods and paper. Many homes would be tinderboxes. Time to move it along, before they realised the virus wasn’t going to kill all that many of them this time. Moors lit another cigarette.
This new world has some delightful vices. What a pity I need to take this one from them.
Ker had explained that the plague wasn’t perfect. There was a treatment, and the human-creatures had found it. Moros had sent Apate and now Dolos to sow doubt about the treatment and to whip up hate against those who promoted it. They were doing a decent job.
The human-creatures still insisted on using nicotine though, and that undermined the plague’s effectiveness. Moros had placed several of the Keres in the ridiculous Puritan movement of tobacco control. They had proved markedly effective, especially in reducing the impact of the new, safer, nicotine vapour system.
Still, the virus wasn’t meant to kill them all. All these and more were just aspects of the plan. The final solution was soon to be applied.
They simply need to be induced into wanting it.
Blackthorn ran his hand over his face. “He has them hoarding food, paper and alcohol. Does he think they’ll set fire to the paper with the alcohol? That’s ridiculous. Beer and wine won’t burn, they’ll put out fire. Only a few spirit drinks are flammable and they don’t seem to be stockpiling absinthe.”
“Are you sure this isn’t just coincidence? I mean, there are always hoarders in any emergency even if it’s not real.” Rooke placed his empty glass on the table.
Blackthorn refilled it. “I’ve never seen this level of hoarding, even when there was a panic over Brexit. This is manipulated through the media. And I am certain Moros is behind it.” He topped up his own glass. “I just can’t see where he’s going with this.”
“Do we at least know why?”
“Oh yes.” Blackthorn leaned back in his chair. “The information you passed to me made that very clear.”
Moors sipped at his beer and regarded the young reporter opposite. “Well, no doubt you have heard that the virus can be transmitted on fuel pump handles?”
Sophie LeGrange narrowed her eyes. “I heard that was just a scare story.”
“Oh no, it’s true. It’s extremely contagious. I have it on authority—” Moors leaned forward “—and this has to stay between the two of us, you understand.”
Sophie leaned forward too, her eyes wide. “Oh of course. I never reveal my sources.”
“Good. I’m not supposed to tell anyone, but I feel the public have a right to know that the government will have no choice but to close down fuel stations, and soon.”
“Really?” Sophie scribbled in her notepad. “This is big.”
“It could be the turning point in your career.” Moors licked his lips. “Of course, it would make my career turn in the opposite direction if my involvement were ever known.”
“Don’t you worry, Mr. Moors. Your name will never appear.”
“Thank you.” Moors leaned back in his seat. If only you knew my real name, or if anyone remembered it. Then this wouldn’t be quite so easy.
“Okay, so why is he doing it? Why is Moros trying to destroy us?”
Blackthorn licked his lips. “We contaminated their experiment.”
Rooke blinked a few times. “What?”
“Right.” Blackthorn pinched the bridge of his nose. “This is going to sound like tinfoil-hattery but it’s the only logical deduction from the information you passed to me last year.” He sighed and stared at the table. “Are you ready for this?”
Rooke shrugged. “About now, I’m ready for anything.”
Blackthorn took a deep breath and looked right into Rooke’s eyes. “Annunaki.”
“Oh come on.” Rooke tilted his head back. “Should I pass the tinfoil around now?”
Blackthorn groaned. “Haven’t you seen enough yet? You were the one who tried to keep Moros’ prison secret. You knew what he did to humanity last time, but you never knew why. Now I’m offering to tell you and all you can do is scream ‘tinfoil’. Don’t you want to know how much further down this goes?”
“Okay. I’m sorry. But the Annunaki are just legend. Part of a religion. Nothing more.”
“There are so many common themes in all religions. I’ve long suspected there must have been some truth that started them all.” Blackthorn took out his cigar case and offered one to Rooke, who declined.
“Very well.” Blackthorn clipped the ends of a cigar. “The Annunaki—” he stared at Rooke with his eyebrows lowered “—as legend says, bred humanity as a slave race. Then they left. Moros and his crew were left behind to clear up the mess. Long before even the Sumerians documented them. The Sumerians never actually met them, Moros and his band had been trapped thousands of years earlier, but they had reduced humanity almost to cavemen before they were stopped. Humanity was then left to its own devices, to start over. A few remembered tales, some hidden messages carved in stone, were all that was left.” He lit the cigar and blew a cloud of smoke into the air.
“What mess?” Rooke waved away smoke.
“Humanity had expanded. Some escaped Annunaki control and went wandering. Some of course stayed in Africa and the Middle East, where the Annunaki were based. Others travelled around the globe. Some came to Europe. And that’s where the problem set in.”
“Problem?” Rooke shook his head. “What problem? Why specifically Europe?”
“Neanderthals. And in the east, the human offshoot called Denisovans. They were not bred by Annunaki, they most likely developed independently from whichever anthropoid the Annunaki used to create their slave race. They were smarter than the slave race.” Blackthorn blew another cloud of smoke, this time away from Rooke.
“So? Those species are extinct. There is only Homo Sapiens now.”
“Not quite.” Blackthorn rested his cigar in the ashtray and leaned forward. “The humans that came into Europe interbred with those other human species.” He clasped his fingers. “We screwed up their breeding program. We developed into something unexpected, something smarter and not so easily controlled. As far as Moros is concerned, we are not human. He tried to eradicate us once before, and that was why. Last time, people managed to stop him and cage him and his siblings, but we still don’t know how. His motive has not changed. We need to work out his new method.”
The communicator tolled. Moros turned from his screen to regard it. Nyx, his mother, was calling. He tapped his code into the panel.
“How does it go, my son? I see they have not trapped you this time. Yet.”
Moros laughed. “They haven’t even noticed me. I am just a faint legend to them now. I could announce myself to them and they would simply shake their heads and turn away. Most of them do not even know my name.”
Nyx grinned. “You will return them to be our servants?”
“I will, mother, and they will worship us once more. There will be some deaths and some minor explosions and they will demand order. Eris has this part to play and is doing very well. Then Thanatos will quell the agony with an imagined vaccine that will kill and frighten even more and they will accept the microchip to save them from the pain.” He grinned. “Then we will reduce their number. This first plague will cull the old and the weak. They will accept the vaccine and the chip, which will prime their Neanderthal DNA for the next round. The second will target those who still carry Neanderthal genes and our workforce will be cleansed.”
“You have done well, my son. We will have our servants under control soon. There is so much more to mine on that planet.”
“Thank you, mother.” Moros bowed his head. “I hope we can keep their tobacco plant alive. It is most pleasant.”
Nyx laughed, loud and long. “They will farm what we tell them to farm, and the chips will let us easily remove dissenters. Do they know what befalls them, these upstart servants?”
“No, mother, they do not. I have been blatant and those few who have noticed have been marked as cranks and idiots. They are too focused on their money.” He licked his lips. “Their economies are collapsing. Soon they will lose all their technology once again.”
“We are on the way back now. Can you be ready in two of that planet’s years?”
Moros laughed. “At this rate we will be ready in one.”
Nyx smiled, nodded and the screen darkened as she broke the connection.
“Seriously? Oh God. Thank you, Williamson.” Rooke shut down his phone and put it away. “It seems there is now a story that the government will shut petrol stations.”
“Rubbish.” Blackthorn shook his head. “Transport is essential. They’ll never close the fuel supply.”
“But people will believe they are going to. So they’ll stockpile fuel and cause another artificial shortage.” Rooke raised his hands. “Come on. You know people are basically stupid.”
Blackthorn sat in silence, staring at his whisky for several minutes. “I see it.”
“What?” Rooke sat up.
“Houses filled with dry goods and paper and alcohol and now about to be filled with badly-stored petrol. He only needs one more move.” Blackthorn lifted his glass and took a deep drink. “And there is nothing we can do to stop him.”
“What? What’s his next move?” Rooke pressed his palms on the desk.
“Rumours of power cuts. They’ll bulk buy candles.” Blackthorn slumped in his chair. “They will be quarantined in their homes with booze and petrol and candles and everything flammable that you can get.”
“Yes but the power cuts are just rumours, if those rumours even happen.” Rooke forced a smile.
“It’s all been rumour.” Blackthorn bared his teeth. “That’s how he works. A new flu virus, rumours it’s going to kill millions, rumours about paper products running out, rumours about alcohol being restricted, rumours about petrol being unavailable. They have all worked. A rumour about power cuts will lead to hoarding candles.”
Rooke took a breath and released it slowly. “Yes, but there won’t be any power cuts.”
Blackthorn raised one eyebrow. “Won’t there? All it takes is too many power station workers off sick. Half of them will have the virus and half will be using the virus for a free holiday.” He drained his glass and poured another. “People are, basically, pretty dim. They are mostly in it for themselves and will take any opportunity for a free ride. Moros knows this, he’s used that same trait against us before. He has never killed anyone, he leads them to destroy themselves and he is so very good at it.”
Rooke drained his glass and pushed it across the table.
Blackthorn refilled it. “There will be power cuts. People will light their candles and drink their booze in a fire hazard house with a petrol stash. They will take out several houses around them and a street of hoarders will be the biggest firecracker anyone has ever seen.” He ran his hand over his thinning hair and gazed at the window. “There will be terror like the world has not seen since the Great Wars. People will beg for a solution, any solution. They are already terrified of each other. Moros, or more likely one of his siblings, will offer them a solution. A microchip, implanted, to prove who is safe. Those who refuse the chip will be ostracised, then hunted down.”
“I’m struggling to work out how an ancient minor deity knows about microchips.” Rooke blinked a few times and lifted his glass for another sip.
Blackthorn’s shoulders slumped. “The Annunaki came from the sky. I think a spacefaring species would be pretty well acquainted with electronics, don’t you? As for the microchip, it’s already developed. Has been for years. Some companies implant chips to let employees access secure areas. This is just an extension of that.”
“Shouldn’t we warn people?”
Blackthorn shook with mirth. “You’ve worked on this your whole career, you’ve studied the information and historical texts, you’ve found some remarkable things buried in the earth, and you were ready to pass the tinfoil when I started talking.” He sighed. “You really think anyone is going to believe all this?”
Rooke rested his elbows on the table and rubbed his eyes. “I’m getting seriously drunk here. Is there anything we can do?”
Blackthorn took a large swig of his whisky and held up the glass. “We’re doing it. There is nothing else we can do. We just have to wait and see what happens next.”
Update: Less than two hours after I posted this…this appeared.