My latest short story in the Connacht Disaster Zone series has been uploaded, bringing the total to 14. This involves recurring characters Siobhán and Diarmuid being told that they have in fact been exposed to Fomoritis.
In-universe, Fomoritis is an airborne mutagen that permanently denatures the body’s myostatin receptors, resulting in increased muscle growth. The other possible symptoms are larger canine teeth in the lower jaw (“fangs”), and a green skin fungus that resembles psoriasis. However, these aren’t guaranteed.
Both children have been raised to think that being exposed to Fomoritis is a moral failing, but Diarmuid is too cynical to believe that. To him, the biggest problem is that he was kidnapped and exposed to it, rather than being exposed per se.
Dr Nicholas Magnusson looked up as the door slid open, smiling with solemn reassurance at the children hesitating in the doorway. One was a thin, black-haired boy with yellow sunglasses in front of apparently-orange eyes; to the boy’s right was a girl whose defiant green stare was tinged with apprehension. The hair on her left-hand-side was much shorter.
“Ah, Miss MacCarthy. Master O’Flaherty. Come in.”
They obeyed reluctantly, shuffling over to the chairs in front of him. O’Flaherty slumped in his chair, adopting a resigned expression and folding his arms defensively across his chest. MacCarthy sat perfectly upright, hands clasped tightly in her lap. Tightly enough that her knuckles had lost whatever colour they originally had.
Magnusson glanced back at his notes again. Diarmuid Uí Flatharta and Siobhán Mac Carthaí. Both had been handed over to the department just under a month ago by a group of Fomorian smugglers or pirates, without showing any symptoms of Fomoritis. Unfortunately, Thompson’s biopsy report two days ago had confirmed it. The procedure itself had apparently gone quite well, though that may have been the result of the sedatives both had asked for after nearly suffering panic attacks in their initial session.
He looked up again. “Dr Thompson has provided me with the results of the biopsy he performed on Saturday. He-”
“W-we can’t be F-fomorians,” the girl whispered, shaking her head vehemently. If it were possible, her knuckles clenched tighter.
“He has confirmed that your muscles have become denser, but that is your only symptom,” Magnusson emphasised. In response, the lad pulled up his left sleeve to stare at the lean, yet meaty and well-defined arm that confronted him. Based on the boy’s previous admissions of smelling the dwarven laboratory they’d escaped from, Magnusson suspected that he was seeing what wasn’t there – the green, scaly patches of fungus observed in many of the other Fomorian detainees.
“So,” Diarmuid began with a deliberately flippant tone, “we’re now baby-eating, devil-worshipping monsters because…we have bigger muscles. Well, I don’t feel any different.” Magnusson had expected this; bitter sarcasm was the boy’s preferred coping mechanism, and it fit with his resigned attitude towards the other detainees. What he didn’t entirely expect was the very dark comment that followed. “Don’t suppose you’ve got any secret sauces for eating babies with?”
“H-how can you joke ab-bout this?” Siobhán shrieked, whipping her head around in wide-eyed shock. “We’re-we’re monsters!”
“Baltaí,” the boy snorted. Magnusson limited himself to a reproving glance; the boy apparently hailed from a fishing background. “Shiva, you’re no more a monster than the doc. Or Seamie-”
“Shiva?” she echoed, blinking confusedly. He hesitated, looking away for a moment, then admitted he’d heard the name somewhere.
“If I remember correctly,” Magnusson interjected, “Shiva is the Hindu god of destruction. Is there anything in particular that causes you to associate this name with Siobhán?”
“What’s Hindu?” Diarmuid asked, cocking his head in bewilderment. Well, that answered that question; it was probably just a coincidence. As for why…some of the staff were beginning to suspect that the pair had begun to develop feelings for each other.
“Y-you really think I’m not a m-monster?” she whispered.
The boy laughed bitterly, briefly shoving his glasses up to reveal his blood-red eyes as he leaned forwards slightly. “Compared to the bitch next door who said I should’ve been drowned at birth? Or my cousins?”
“What about th-the Brotherhood?” She hissed in return, locking her eyes onto his. “They’re monsters! They snatch people and…and…” she trailed off, starting to breath more quickly. Diarmuid tightened his grip on his glasses and grimaced.
“Like this Dr Burke?” Magnusson interrupted. Both flinched and looked away. A month later, and they still had trouble talking about how they were exposed. To say nothing of their peculiar aversion to the word “crow”, that apparently had something to do with wherever it had happened. The boys in Analysis suspected it was a place called Cruagh Island, somewhere off the coast of Connemara.
“Fuck him,” the boy finally hissed vehemently, lowering his glasses again. When he looked at Magnusson, the alienist was struck by the tense hunger in the lad’s face. “Id’ve preferred him standin’ trial!”
“I agree,” Siobhán whispered, no less intense. “A b-bullet in his head was t-too damn quick. He should have s-stood trial and lost everything b-but his life,” she continued, ignoring the looks she got at the unexpected profanity.
“Do you think that would have happened?” Magnusson was cautiously optimistic that they were getting somewhere. Diarmuid had been openly sceptical that it would have happened, and Siobhán had refused to discuss it before now.
“Hello, I’m technically a British citizen,” Diarmuid snarked. “Connacht Trading woulda thrown him overboard in a heartbeat if they discovered he’d kidnapped a shoneen lad. Even one like me.”
“What makes you think that?”
The boy shrugged cynically. “Sure, they might have standards that he broke. More likely that they don’t want to risk their precious military supply contracts ‘round Galway – I hear their kit’s expensive. Very luc-ra-tive,” he finished sourly. Beside him, Siobhán grimaced as though she didn’t want to agree. Privately, Magnusson found it interesting that in spite of his general caustic attitude, the boy was willing to concede that there may have been ethical disagreements involved.
“If the company were to, hypothetically speaking, inquire about your whereabouts-”
“No.” Both emphatically spoke at the same time. Diarmuid had leaned his head back slightly with an expression of disgust on his face. Siobhán had shaken hers.
“We d-do not tru-trust them,” Siobhán added needlessly. “But we would c-consent to the C-Church knowing where we are.”
“What?” she shrieked, whipping her head around to look at him again. “How-how-how can you s-s-say that?”
“We had some of the smug arseholes kept poking around the village, looking for sympathisers,” Diarmuid replied sourly. He adopted a pompous tone and continued, “It is most fortuitious that you have managed to hold your inner nature at bay thus far. Should your struggle threaten to become overwhelming, you speak with our Inquirers in the strictest confidence, blah blah blah. Take a guess why they chose me out of the entire village,” he finished bitterly.
“You think your eye colour played a part in this?”
“Of course it did! It always does!” the boy snarled. He abruptly stood up. “I’m a freak. Always was, always will be. Even the fuckin’ orcs thought so.”
Magnusson shook his head as he watched the boy leave the room and snarl in English at the guard outside to leave him alone. This was an unexpected low for him; in every single one of his eight previous sessions, the boy had eventually just clammed up. It was almost as though he was trying to push everyone away.
“He…he’s not entirely w-wrong,” Siobhán admitted. Her eyes met his. “Most of the F-fomorians we met f-found him creepy. There were only three who…who didn’t care.”
“Oh? Was there something particular about them?”
“One was the B-black Cat. He…” the girl began, looking away for a moment. “He seemed genuinely baffled when somebody pointed it out. Like he hadn’t even noticed.”
“A form of Daltonism?” Magnusson took a note of this. Analysis might be interested in this.
“C-colour blindness? M-maybe. The second was his…his mother. She seemed intrigued by Diarmuid’s eyes, and amused by it. By everyone else’s reactions to it,” she clarified. “But the third one was worse. Creepy. Almost like she was po-possessed, or just away in the head.”
“How so?” This was new. Neither had mentioned this before.
“She had the blankest face I’ve ever seen, and the most unnerving voice I’ve ever heard. It was so…so flat. L-like she wasn’t even t-trying to emu-emulate a human.”
“And the rest of them were?”
She shivered. “T-that was the w-w-worst part. The fact that they…they look just s-similar enough to be a m-mockery of uh-us. P-people sh-sh-shouldn’t have…fangs coming out of th-their jaws.” Her right hand traced up her chin and past the corners of her mouth, stopping about half an inch above her upper lip.
Magnusson took a note of this. It was quite a common view. “What about the skin pigmentation?”
She hesitated. “I h-had a neighbour with s-s-s-psoriasis back in Keel. It looks s-similar enough and…I hear it d-dies in the sunlight t-too. So it’s not p-p-permanent. But the f-fangs and muscles are!”
“Perhaps that is the case, but that doesn’t mean-”
“It means I c-c-can’t go home!” she screamed, slumping and lowering her head into her hands. When she looked back up, there were tears in her eyes. Her stutter grew worse with each heaving breath as she continued, “We had c-c-c-c-classes about th-this at-at-at-at…school. B-being turned i-i-into…into…into…”
“Siobhán, I am well aware of the League’s edicts. I can tell you that there have been attempts – increasingly frequent ones – to overturn the Eradication Act. There is a chance that you will be able to return home-”
“N-no,” she whispered, lowering her head again. “Neither of us c-can go home. Th-th-there’s nothing for us th-there.”
“Nothing? There must be something. Your friends, your family?” She didn’t reply. For a long moment, she sat there and stared at her lap. “Let us continue this tomorrow. Think about it overnight, and please let Diarmuid know that the same applies to him.”
She wordlessly rose to her feet and shuffled out, still looking at the floor. From outside, he heard the guard asking if she was all right and receiving no response. Mechanically, he flicked the switch to deactivate the phonograph and reached forwards to extract the wax cylinder. Gathering his notes and the cylinder, he stood up to leave.
“Doctor?” The voice that broke into his thoughts was clearly from Maynooth, as clear as the fangs and stochastic green, scaly patches on the sergeant’s face. “The Colonel wants to speak with you when you’ve finished, sir. He said it was urgent.”
“Let him know I’ll be there in a few minutes, Sergeant.” Magnusson turned to head back to his office, when something occurred to him. “Does it by chance involve Miss MacCarthy and Master O’Flaherty?”
“Afraid so.” The sergeant hesitated. “Sir…would it help if I spoke with the lad again? It didn’t look like he was taking it too well.”
Magnusson considered this. He was well aware that Porter had been talking with O’Flaherty, and had quietly approved. The man hadn’t been born with Fomoritis, and had not had any say in being exposed to it either. “I don’t think he’s particularly receptive right now, but please, feel free. To be honest, I suspect he regards it as…” he trailed off, trying to find the words.
“Just one more bucket of shit on his head?”
“Something along those lines,” Magnusson grimaced. “The girl’s taking it worse. Pending confirmation from the Colonel, would you mind spreading the word to keep an eye on them?”
“Yes, sir. I’ll do that now.”
Magnusson knocked on the door in the central administration block. From the outside, it didn’t look any different to the other doors: a solid, unadorned slab of pine. The small black plaque to the right of the door was all that marked this as the office of Colonel Munro.
“Come in!” a Highland Scots accent barked. He opened the door.
“You wished to speak with me, Adam?”
“Nicholas…close the door.” Munro barely waited long enough for the alienist to sit down before he abruptly continued, “So, how badly did they take it?”
Magnusson glanced at his notes to gather his thoughts. “Not very well, I’m afraid. I’m hoping to speak with them again tomorrow, though I’d be surprised if O’Flaherty obeys. He…seems to be trying to push everyone away.”
“Laddie’s convinced he’s a monster?”
“A direct quote: ‘I’m a freak. Always was, always will be’. I suspect he sees it as just another misfortune in his life. He was also quick to tell Miss MacCarthy that he doesn’t think she’s a monster – no more than myself or Mr White.”
“And the girl?”
He sighed. “She…isn’t taking it as well. The dwarves’ education systems have placed heavy emphasis on the Fomorians being demons, and that being infected is a moral failing. She’s convinced that she will not be able to return to Achill. Despite that, she claims to be willing to let the dwarven church know where she is.”
“That might happen soon enough,” Munro replied, grimly rubbing his eyes. “They’ve figured out that she’s in our custody.”
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