The stories that sit behind people are often surprising. The story of how Mother met Peter was one such tale.
Mother had been one of the founders of the Citadel. A woman helping to set up a place where future generations would exclude all but surrogate mothers who were little more than hired help – for life was more than a little ironic. Nevertheless, she had been one of the founders, in the ancient years these would have been called founding fathers as if men with no ability to reproduce the species were capable of such a miraculous act. Perhaps it was jealousy or frustration that brought about the exile of females from that place of apparent safety.
Mother was one of the first ones to go. She had been accused of sedition against the society that she was responsible founding. Hers was a trial that was designed to make a statement whilst laying down the intention of future expulsions; if Mother was to be thrown out of the Citadel, any female could be. The Family had discovered that trade was the way for them to move forward and it was a trade that involved their most valued and disposable commodity, females. Women were essential for reproductive purposes. They were somewhat preferable for the raising of offspring whilst they were useful for the task of managing the thing that was called the family home. But women presented other problems when they were not being utilised as essential labour. Men often saw women as objects of desire and this could lead to them allotting much of their thinking time to the pursuit of satisfaction. Then there was the problem of baby girls who served little to no use in this new world. It had been noted that more and more females were being born, many more than male. The Family saw this as an imbalance that needed to be put right and they instituted a programme that would efficiently deal with this imbalance, before it reached uncontrollable proportions; the girls were taken away immediately after birth. The pain of their loss explained through nature’s design – boys were stronger than girls. Nobody questioned this as it was now a society that provided for men and excluded women. This was the world that Peter was born into, the world that he was meant to inherit. And it was Mother who saved him when he most needed it.
Whatever light trick Peter had performed it became clear that he did not think that it would last forever. We were moving fast, not taking time to hide our escape and the reason for this became evident as a crude hunting horn broke the air. Nobody wasted time speaking. Mother was showing an incredible effort just to keep up with us. The old woman who had been paraded for the crowd had been replaced with someone who was much younger. Not only was she keeping up to us, she was leading. I had never seen her like this before, but I did not have time to think about it as the hunter’s horn blew once again. They had planned a more controlled hunt, one that would determine the fate of the leading clan, but this was more spontaneous, this was what hunts should always be like. And instead of there being just the one prey, there were six of us which added value to the chase. Whichever clan managed to bring back any one of us would be certain of more than mere kudos; they would be rich beyond their previous dreams.
By now, the rain was venomous but its gift was vision, or lack of it. The world had turned to water. The roads were becoming torrents and the night was a blur of persistent attack. Ordinarily, this would have been our friend, our tracks would be wiped clean before anyone could follow them, but we were in the city, surrounded by many hundreds of our enemies and we had just stolen the thing that was most prized by the Watchers. We might be clever but they had the numbers that would negate whatever advantage we had hoped to have. Peter seemed to be our only chance of deliverance.
We were moving along the sides of buildings, still trying to keep ourselves as well hidden as we could, when Mother stopped. It was immediate and intended. I was running behind her, keeping a vigil for anything that could be catching us up, and I almost ran into her.
“Mother, what’s wrong?”
At first I thought that she had run herself to a standstill. People did this. She had survived on the trigger of fear and now that had worn off. The others kept up their pace without really noticing that we had halted. Within a few moments they would be out of sight and with the rain acting as a thick cloak through which sound had trouble passing, I was afraid that we could lose them. So I screamed. In the madness of the hunt a scream could mean anything, distress, pain, or terror, but it would not necessarily mean communication. A scream could be short and high pitched or low and drawn-out. I went for the latter as it needed to reach them and make them react. I knew that it could reach anybody and anything within a small area but I had to take the chance. Mother smiled at me when I had stopped.
“Clever girl,” she said. “You are a very clever girl.”
Within seconds, Peter and the others were rejoining us.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, not caring to show his concern.
Through the rain, Mother was a figure that was not easily discerned. We were at the junction of two roads and a number of blasts came from different hunting horns to signify that we would soon not be alone.
“Down there,” she said, “is where we make our exit.”