"Many years before any of you were born, the world was filled with humans."
The bonfire crackles, and in its glow I survey the faces of the bright-eyed Kawitzen children, listening intently to Amelia's story. Although the winter is mild on the west coast of North America's 49th parallel, it still gets damp and chilly at night.
"They spread out from their home in Africa and covered the planet, until there was no place you could not find them, not even the frozen lands of the north and south poles."
The ratio of kids to adults is off-kilter in the Kawitzen tribe, just like most places we visit. Echoes of The Doom are still felt here. Survivors looking to be fruitful and multiply still have to come to grips with the horrors of their offspring not always inheriting their immunity.
"But these children of the Goddess did not simply spread and multiply. For in their wake they brought with them what they called civilization. And what is civilization?"
As a bunch of chubby little hands shoot into the air I roll my eyes and look at Father. If I wanted something this heavy-handed I'd read Ayn Rand, my eyes say to him. He's busy reading something by firelight and doesn't notice me, but I'm sure he'd have a few choice things to say about The Doom if he wasn't so intent on being polite to his new girlfriend.
"Civilization is when you think that some people should get more than other people," a girl says. We've found the pedant in the group, folks. "Civilization uses the gifts of the Goddess without giving back to the planet. Civilization made the Goddess send the Doom so that the planet would stop dying."
Why did I sit here to get an agenda-driven history lesson instead of going off with the other teenagers? I ask myself. You wanted to meet new people, Regan. Congrats. Eight brainwashed thumb-suckers and the Queen of the Hippies.
I remind myself that I'm trying to avoid Mason. I'm still shocked they let him back in the tribe despite his constant need to betray everything – up to and including his own dignity – but then again, the Kawitzen seem to have forgiveness down to Jesus-like proportions. Most post-Doom village cults are a danger to others; this one seems to be more of a danger to itself.
"That's right Harmony," Amelia says, bringing my focus back to the present. What's going on? I ask myself. Oh, yeah. Back-patting for taking the blue pill. I accidentally laugh out loud at my secret Matrix joke that nobody would get.
"Is something funny, Regan?" Amelia asks. It's creepy because she doesn't sound offended.
"It's nothing," I mutter. "Please carry on."
"No, please," she insists. "You and your father are well-travelled. Do you have further insight into the fall of civilization?"
I sigh, looking to Father pleadingly for support but he's still reading his book. A lifetime of knowing his habits tells me that he's actually listening, but he's not going to back me up on this one.
I sigh. "You were born well before The Doom, right Amelia?"
She smiles. "Guilty; I'm no spring chicken."
"So you remember that The Doom was a human-made virus, right? Not some book of revelations or Gaia hypothesis plague?"
Amelia regards me calmly but there is something new in her eyes. That's right, I think. This road scholar knows better than your spoon-fed, homespun religion, and you have to respect that, don't you?
"According to the mainstream media at the time, yes. Sources proven to be less than credible."
The kids' faces turn from left to right and back again like they're watching tennis.
"Um, and according to him," I say, pointing at Father. "Your saviour-guy. And more than a few well-documented sources. And..."
Father slams his book shut so loudly that it is heard over the crackle of flames, over our argument. He stands and gives me the you-know-what-you-did stare, except I have no idea what I did.
"Can I talk to you for a moment, daughter of mine?"
I stare at him from across the flames. "Sure." I grit my teeth. "Dad. Of mine."
As we leave the area around the bonfire I catch Amelia's eye. She's got this look like: 'how would you know about The Doom, Regan? You weren't born yet'. I just want to punch her, but I don't generally throw fists around when I'm a guest.
I have punched one of Father's girlfriends before, though.
Father stops walking when we're hidden deep in one of the rows of the Kawitzen's winter garden.
"What do you think you're doing?" he asks.
"Right now? Being admonished for inscrutable reasons, apparently."
"You're not going to change their minds, Regan."
I fold my arms, staring up at the cloudy night sky so I don't have to look at his stupid accusatory face.
"I cannot believe you're not backing me up on this, Dad. I mean...goddess plagues? Civilization pared down to a concept that a five-year-old thinks it can understand? Hey, we've seen our fair share of cults, but..."
"But nothing," he counters. "They're peaceful. You wanted to trade with them and meet new people. Well, here we are. Everyone gets to decide how they rebuild the world. This is how the Kawitzen are doing it, and I'd say they're not doing too bad of a job."
"Doesn't the truth matter?" I raise my voice with the hope that someone will eavesdrop and learn something. "Or are you too busy trying to impress your new girlfriend?"
"She's not," he says, laughing, "my girlfriend. Civilization was a monster, Regan. You might think you understand what it was, and perhaps you do better than most who remember it, but really it was a juggernaut of destruction. It was the selfish soul of humanity, the manifestation of our biological instincts dressed up in the trappings of fairness and progress. It was leading us toward ecological disaster. It was an arbitrary system of numbers that gave incredible power to a select few and essentially enslaved the rest. It was the pursuit of knowledge above all else which brought us to The Doom."
"Don't interrupt. Their goddess is a metaphor, yes, but these people are trying to teach their children not to make the same mistakes we did, so I'd say it's a step in the right direction. Because the hard truth of the matter, Regan, is that if The Doom hadn't come to the world, we would have destroyed it anyway, with nuclear warheads or the greenhouse effect or oceans full of garbage."
"Okay," I say. "Thanks for not being an asshole about it, Dad. So you're saying The Doom was a good thing, now?"
He gets that quiet, contemplative face like he does sometimes when The Doom gets brought up. Like he's remembering horrific things that, to this day, he won't tell me about. Bodies piled in the streets and burning cities and wanton violence kind of stuff.
Then we hear the sound of a fire hall siren.
"It's the League!" someone shouts in the distance. "Get to the towers!"
"Really starting to hate this League," I mutter to Father as we race back to the RV for some firepower.
"Tell me about it," he says.
YOU ARE READING
Doom's DaughterScience Fiction
Seventeen years ago, The Doom spread across the globe, destroying civilization. Humanity survives now in isolated groups, trying to rebuild what was lost. Regan and her father are scavengers, salvaging technology and knowledge from forgotten cities...