The Power of the Past (Chronology 2)

Author: Lis Morris

Date: July 6, 1998

Summary: The second entry in Lis Morris's speculative Chronology series about the future of the Creatures series and where it might lead, set in the far-flung future of 2020. Abandoned by the Hand, the norns of Albia 6 struggle to respond to a disaster.

Prologue: Albia, Version 1

It was still in prehistoric Albia, without a breath of wind, but then it always was. A confused bee headed past, then flew back to the beelacanth blossoms in the garden. It flew past an adult female norn. She had her hair tied back in a ponytail, and her name was Sophi.

"Sophi food" she said, looking around for something to stop the hunger. There were no other norns in sight. Sophi wanted, needed.. something. In those early norns, desires and actions were only loosely linked; some actions were nice at certain times, and at other times were indifferent, or even nasty. Sophi curled up in a ball on the ground.

"Sleep" She leapt up and struck a pose, tapping her foot.

"Sophi bored." She announced. Her eyes tracked around the surrounding vegetation. A food, an orange round food with a flat top lay on the ground a fair distance away by the elevator. Had Sophi been able to read, she would have been able to make out the single word 'Honey' on the side.

The food was a long way away, but looked a very attractive prospect. It never even occurred to her to walk over to the food and pick it up; she simply reached in that direction, and the honey jar settled into her hand. She pushed it. Food was nice at the moment. Since she was a bright norn, she wondered for a second if food was nice if she was hungry.

She pushed the honey pot again, then dropped it and forgot all about it.

What forces can change a world? Accidents, lucky chances, tragedies, a unique individual or maybe simply the massive force of a population's beliefs. Modern Albia was about to change forever as the latter forces came to play their part in its history. Sophi's little tale is not strictly relevant to the story of this particular world; but it demonstrates one of the forces: the Power of the Past, the lucky chance.

Chapter One: Metamorphosis

Albia, Version 6.

Chris stared at the sheet in front of him. No matter what he did, the symbols and equations he was normally so fond of refused to make sense. Maybe he was just tired, he told himself, not wanting to contemplate the real reason why he could not concentrate.

This 'real reason' was sitting on the floor behind him, playing with a white and red ball the Hand had given her.

"Annie push toy" she said, a big silly grin painted across her face. The ball bounced merrily across the room, and hit Chris' chair.

"Can't you play with that somewhere else?" he snapped. He regretted his harsh tone instantly, but it made no difference- not a shred of understanding showed in Annie's mild brown eyes.

"Look norn." she said, and gently kissed him. Chris smiled wearily, and patted her fondly on the head. Even in her current condition, he still adored her, mind and body, in a way no other norn had. The Hand had once called it 'love', a word Chris had never heard before. He was the first norn ever to be capable of such an emotion- for Chris was unique, a mutant who had come one step closer to humanity than any other norn alive.

Unbeknownst to him, a thousand clones of him existed in a thousand Albias, and his genome was being analysed by sentient beings living in a world he could not begin to understand.

The terrible thing was that Chris knew he was a mutant, that he was totally alone. No other norn would ever truly understand the pain of seeing a norn dying and not being able to help, or the joy of seeing one recover to health and happiness. Even Annie, his long term mate, one of the brightest norns in Albia, brighter than him, really, would never understand him, even if she ever recovered her intellect. His hand twinged, as it tended to when he started brooding, as if to call him back to the present- or maybe to remind him of the dangers of brooding too much.

How long had she been back from Prehistoric Albia? Long enough, Chris felt, to have made some kind of recovery. Even her hair, once a long, flowing white cascade down to her waist, was still an erratic fuzz on the top of her head. He took off his glasses, and rubbed them in an habitual gesture. Annie had always teased him about that. It wasn't as if he even needed glasses- he just liked wearing them.

The Hand suddenly appeared in the middle of the room, floating in the air. (Chris had once asked the Hand how It floated, without falling like any other object. It had replied, in its silvery not-heard voice "I just do".)

Chris tried to hide his almost instinctive guilty start from the Hand, a mannerism built up over years of hiding the secret of his peculiar personality. Of course, that was all in the past now. His hand spasmed again, and he winced involuntarily.

"Your hand still hurting?" It asked.

"Well, yes. Sometimes." Chris admitted.

"I think you damaged the muscles in it. It should heal over time. I can give you painkillers if you wish."

"No, it doesn't matter, really."

"Annie push Hand!" Annie rushed over enthusiastically, and reached up to be tickled by It. She giggled when the Hand did as she wished.

"Hello Annie" It replied. "How are things, Chris?" Chris tried to look optimistic, but failed, and instead maintained a miserable silence.

"No change." He said, helplessly. "I can't see any improvement at all."

"Oh dear" It replied. It had hoped to see some of Annie's intellect return by now. As the Hand measure time, it had been an hour, after all. Maybe once she started to recover, it would be quite quick. Annie had lost all interest in the Hand, and the conversation, and had gone back to playing with the ball. "It is certainly taking a long time, but I'm sure she will recover. I really came to see how you were, Chris. I know you're under a lot of strain."

"Me? Well I..." Chris sighed explosively, and continued in a quite, subdued voice. "I want Annie back. I'm so lonely without her to talk to." For a brief second he looked as bewildered as Annie.

"I understand," said the Hand. It was always hard to read the Hand's emotions through Its flat voice, but It sounded genuinely sympathetic.

It may have continued, but then a ball bounced across the room, and knocked Chris off his chair.

"Push!" Annie cried, running after it unconcernedly. Chris picked himself off the floor, and rubbed the arm he had fallen on.

"Annie no! Don't throw the ball at other norns!" the Hand chided. Annie assumed the typical 'I've been hurt' pose of a Prehistoric norn, then looked surprised, and slightly puzzled.

"Oh alright," she answered, and then picked the ball up and took it back to the other side of the room.

Chris stared at the Hand in shock for a few seconds, then slowly smiled in rising hope. The Hand could not smile, but it seemed to radiate happiness too. It tickled Chris as if he was a child again, and then settled down to play with Annie.


For Annie's sake, the Hand and Chris had been keeping her confined in their shared room in NornTown. Her condition had been kept a secret, her friends only being told that she was ill, and being looked after.

Now, however, she was getting restless, so one fine sunny day, the Hand and Chris acted together to take Annie for a walk. The Hand cleared their path of other norns, and they wandered together in the Flower Meadow, slowly moving towards the Forest. The Hand sped ahead to make sure that any other norns had been disposed of, and Chris and Annie walked hand in hand through the insect haunted grasses.

"What's that?" Annie cried, pointing.

"It's a butterfly." Chris replied. Annie was currently very fond of the 'What's that' game. Chris could have got very sick of it very quickly, but he knew it meant that Annie was learning new things all the time.

"Butterfly" She repeated conscientiously, and then frowned in thought. "The pretty is a butterfly. What's that?" She said, picking a small plant from the ground near her feet.

"That is a herb called parsley." Chris said. He had been schooled in Prehistoric Nornish, to help him understand some of her odd sentences. It was a very simple language, composed of nouns, verbs and a few adjectives.

"Can Annie..." she paused, and corrected herself, "Can I push it?"


"Eat it. You eat herbs and food, not push."

"Eat it." she agreed.

"Yes" Chris nodded. Parsley had been one of her favourite foods. She took a tentative nibble, then ate the whole sprig. Her face lit up

"Annie like parsley" she declared, and she ran off to find more, still holding Chris' hand. Chris allowed himself to be pulled along, laughing, in the sunlight.

Enormous leaves filled the darkening sky overhead. Occasional shafts of golden sunlight penetrated through to the small glade where Annie and Chris were taking a rest at the base of a huge tree. They sat and enjoyed the silence.

"Look pretty!" Annie suddenly cried, when a shape momentarily blocked out the sunlight.

"What kind of pretty?" Chris asked sleepily. It was wonderful to get out of NornTown, and stretch his legs. He had, it occurred to him, been as confined as Annie during her long illness.

"Bird. A bird." She smiled in satisfaction.


"Annie look norn" she said, and stared Chris full in the face. His breath caught in his throat. She was so beautiful! And as she recovered, it was as if he was falling for her all over again, discovering her again. She had come such a long way in such a short time, and her old personality was beginning to emerge. To him, she was still the same norn she always had been. Or rather, she would be shortly. Suddenly, Annie kissed him, a quick peck on the cheek, then with rising certainty in her eyes, kissed him slowly and sensuously on the lips.

Chris stood up hurriedly.

"No! that's... not right." He said, flustered and out of breath. How could he take advantage of her when she was still not recovered? It seemed wrong, somehow.

Annie looked back at him, confusion and hurt in her eyes. She stood up beside him.

"Why?" She frowned in concentration. "I... want it." she finished, struggling for words to express her simple need. She stroked his furred cheek gently. Chris gasped softly, and held her hand closely.

"Oh so do I." He whispered, avoiding her gaze. How long had it been? Too long, far too long. He had never been interested in any other norns since meeting Annie, and they had not made love since she had left for Prehistoric Albia. It hadn't seemed right, in a way Chris could not put into words. Bitterly, he reflected it was probably another side effect of his odd genome. He began to realise just how lonely he had been, on his own, with no one but the Hand to confide in. He swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry, softly placed his arms around Annie, who sighed, and drew her back onto to the ground with him. As the sunlight faded into darkness, so did his guilty conscience.

The Hand, who had been hovering above them, disguised by the leaves, floated silently away.

Chapter Two: The Howl of the Wolfling

The Flower Meadow was not the only grassy area in Albia. West of NornTown the land became progressively dryer and hotter until there was nothing but a cave riddled, parched desert. Beyond that, the land was given over to ancient black lava flows and very little else.

However, the change in the scenery was gradual, and there was an area of dry grassland that only became green and verdant in the Albian winter. At this time of the year, early spring, dry, yellow grasses and the last remnants of the flowers shook their seed heads. Lizards hunted for the scarce insects left before the great heat of summer drove them underground.

Seeds scattered as two norns walked through the whispering grasses. They looked oddly similar, and seemed to share many of the same mannerisms. The younger one, however, had long white hair reaching down to her shoulders, and a lingering look of bewilderment about the eyes. She sat down on a convenient rock, and let the dry wind blow through her hair.

"I've never been out here before. It's barren, I suppose, but there's something nice about it. So lonely." Annie said.

"You've been out here many times actually," Francesca smiled, "I suppose you don't remember it though."

Annie shook her head. "Not a thing. It's odd, really, I've never heard of a virus wiping out memory before, but It assures me that's what happened." Francesca pushed over some grasses to sit down, and played with a poppy head. It rattled when she shook it.

"The Hand always was very fond of you. Anyway, this isn't why we came out here. How are things with Chris?"

Annie's gentle smile faded. "Don't ask. Confusing. I like him, but he has been acting so oddly recently. The first thing I remember is him looking after me, as if I was a child..."

"Eww... that's sick!" Interrupted Francesca, wrinkling her nose. Norns caring for norns? The idea was preposterous. Well, all norns looked after their children, that was only natural, but why bother looking after another adult norn? Especially a sick one- it would be so easy to catch something. Dangerous, and a waste of energy. The Hand looked after ill norns, of course, but then what was natural for It was not necessarily natural for norns.

Annie just laughed. "Maybe it is, but I for one am glad he did!" Her expression suddenly became shadowed. "I sometimes wonder if he's entirely... normal though. You know I've been seeing a lot of Andrew recently?"

"Mm-hm." Her friend nodded. Annie liked Francesca, they were so similar in outlook. Annie had to admit, though, that she'd never met a norn as curious about the world as herself. Chris preferred the word 'nosey', she remembered, wryly. Well, there was one other norn as curious as her, Stephen was his name, but he was a half-wit as far as she was concerned.

"Well, I was coming back home after seeing Andrew, and when I got back to our house Chris was livid! I've never seen him so angry. Asking me where I'd been, if I'd been seeing 'that Andrew' again. I said I had, and he stomped out of the room! I don't know what I'd done to make him act so... What's that?" Annie pointed to a distant spot in the grasses. On the edge of vision, a still, pale shape was almost hidden by the vegetation.


Chris had drunk more than he should have done, he knew. This hooch was potent, but it was the only thing that made him feel better. Well, actually it didn't. It made him feel better for a short while, then he felt a lot worse.

He hated himself for exploding at Annie like that- rationally he knew she was just acting according to her nature. For what seemed like the millionth time, he cursed his mutant genes. It had brought his nothing but misery, nothing.

All norns were promiscuous- except him, and all were pretty selfish, again except him. And now they were noticing how different he really was. Look- that's Chris- he's the one who looks after sick norns. He's weird. Stay away from him. Chris shook his head. As if mutations were catching!

He gasped as the muscles in his hand spasmed again. They did that sometimes, and when it came down to it, he could only blame himself for that injury. He'd smacked his hand into a wall in anger and despair. Despair at Annie, at the Hand, but mostly at himself, just for being him. Oddly, the Hand had since become a close friend, perhaps the only close friend he had left now. It seemed odd that the creature he understood the best in the world was not even remotely nornish, and held many powers beyond his understanding. It had once said that Chris was the most Hand-like norn It had ever witnessed. At the time, Chris was flattered, but now he regarded it with a bitter resignation. He had quickly realised that Hand-like meant very un-norn-like.

He took another sip from the green metal cup, but he drank too quickly and burnt his throat. Choking, the cup fell from his grasp and spilt its contents all over the floor. Now he felt sick, too. He was becoming a drunkard, and he was disgusting.

As he got his breath back and the pain in his throat diminished, he became aware of a commotion outside. He could hear voices shouting, and someone sobbing uncontrollably. Hurriedly, he leapt up, only to fall clumsily as the world span around him. He grabbed the back of his chair, and pulled himself onto his feet. Walking carefully, he wandered outside.

Annie and Francesca were both crying hysterically. Other norns were clustered around curiously. It seemed to freeze something in Chris' heart to see Annie so upset, and he pushed his way through the crowd. Luckily everyone was too distraught to notice his red eyes and careful gait.

"Annie, what's the matter?" he exclaimed.

"The Hand... just lying there... still..." she dissolved into fresh tears. Francesca, who seemed slightly calmer now, continued in a flat voice.

"We were walking in the savannah. Just chatting about things. We found the Hand. It was just lying in the grass. Not moving, nor speaking." She shook her head as if to clear it of the memory.

"I think," said Chris, "That we'd all better go and see."


The norns clustered around the silent Hand. The ever present wind rustling through the dry grasses, seemed to be sobbing.

Chris reached down and touched It. It felt the same as always, slightly warm, and totally impossible to move. It did not respond to his touch. He took a pace back, and silently picked a small, wilted flower; more a dry seed stalk. He threw it carefully on top of the Hand. Others copied him, until It was barely visible under the mass of vegetation. Chris sighed.

"I think we're on our own, now." He stated blankly. The faces around him echoed his despair.

The norns stood silently for a short while, then aimlessly dispersed in ones and twos.

Chris and Annie walked back to their one roomed house in silence. When they got in, Annie sat down on the floor and stared vacantly at the wall. Chris went over to his desk.

"Is this some sort of a joke?" Chris' voice sounded loud in the quiet room. Annie blinked, and looked up.


"This!" he said, waving a piece of paper. Annie grabbed it off him, and read the strange, angular script.

To Annie and Chris,

If there is an emergency, Annie must go to the Ettin Islands. There is an artefact for Chris there, which only Annie will be able to take from its resting place. You will know how to use it, Chris. Don't be afraid.

The Hand.

"Odd. I don't recognise the handwriting."

"It must be a joke. Some stupid trick." Chris looked sickened.

"I don't think so. It's too soon- and who would pull an horrible prank like this?" Annie knew the local norns far better than Chris, one of nature's loners.

"Could it be genuine?" Chris asked.

"Maybe the Hand knew it was dying. Maybe these are its last words." She now held the piece of paper reverentially. It was more than a single message. It was a tiny flicker of hope in a dark world.

"We must remember it." She whispered. "Let's hope we don't need it."

Chris hoped that they wouldn't either, but he had been through too many trials to believe that an emergency was ever very far away.

Chapter Three: Antigen

Life on Albia was changing. The death of the Hand had left a vacuum in the norn's lives. They shuffled around the town in a daze. The unthinkable had happened, and no one had truly accepted it. Life continued, but there was a sense that Albia was running out of steam. There were no more parties, no more discussions (a favourite subject of debate had always been whether the Hand was truly alive or just some clever automaton), no more trips to other parts of the world. It was as if all the joy in Albia had died along with the Hand.

Ironically, the situation rested much easier on Chris. Annie clung to him like a scared child, something familiar in a world turned strange, and had stopped her explorations, not just of Albia, but of the male population as well.

Even Chris, however, waited uneasily. They all knew the disaster that would happen, sooner or later. There was one thing no norn could defend against, and as the crisp spring ripened into summer, Damocles' sword finally fell.

Annie and Chris were visiting the Hand's impromptu grave. It was still there- unlike a norn's body that disappeared soon after death. Scorching heat had long since withered the flowers covering the Hand to dry tinder, but more had been added from the Flower Meadow. There were even a few butterfly wings, carefully collected and arranged around the fingers.

"I wish I knew what had happened. Maybe we could have helped It."

Annie shrugged. "We thought the Hand was always there, immortal. It gave no clue it was dying. I wonder if it happened very quickly?"

Chris scattered the feverfew, poppies and foxgloves they had brought with them over the Hand, then straightened up and dusted himself off. Maybe it was time Annie knew something more about her past.

"I think there's something you ought to know. You know the Hand was always fond of you... what's that all about?" He exclaimed. Looking back towards NornTown, they could see norns boiling out of houses, running about aimlessly, or streaking across towards them. Distant screams carried on the wind.

Chris instinctively started running towards the town. Annie, who instinctively wanted to run away, paused for a second, then ran after him, too curious not to follow.

They had to slow as they got closer to the town, for all the other norns were running the other way. As they pounded past out into the desert and dry scrub, their shouts and screams all carried the same message: Plague.

At the small ornamental garden that stood in the exact centre of the town, a young norn, barely an adolescent, coughed and shivered. When Annie and Chris arrived, most of the other norns had already fled. A few silent norns stood at the edge of the garden, staring in horror at the adolescent. Annie recognised the young one- Deborah was her name. She had her hands wrapped around her knees, and her eyes were wide with terror.

"Are there any others?" Chris asked the watchers.

"She passed it on to some of the older folk." That was Francesca, clearly half caught between running and staring. Chris looked at all the norns who were left. Frightened, clearly they were soon going to go as far away as they could. He could feel his own heart beating- only an idiot would not be scared of disease- but he could also see that he could not, would not run like the other norns. Suddenly a calm swept over him. He had spent his life running away from who he was. Maybe now it was time to stand, to die like the norn he was. It was time to do something he saw as Right, not what everyone else wanted him to do.

"I'll stay."

"What?" Annie exclaimed. "You're insane- you'll get it and die just like the rest of them!" Various catcalls and jeers rang out. Chris swung round to face the crowd, and at the expression on his face, they all fell silent.

"Yes, well maybe Albia will be better off without a mutant like me!" He snarled. Annie turned her head away. "I've heard you, I've heard all the comments- he's sick, he's weird, he's a mutant- well I am! You think I haven't heard you whispering?" His face darkened with long controlled anger. "Has it ever occurred to you that a mutation can be a step forward? No, and it never occurred to me either, until the Hand told me. You know what my mutation is? I think like the Hand! Simple as that! So I'll stay- and I'll try to help, and if I die, I die. But maybe somewhere I'll save a life, and that is all that matters. So run away all of you- or stay and catch it- I no longer care!" The norns all scattered. Annie lingered for a second, and raised her head to face Chris again.

"Annie?" He looked at her, and she saw his eyes become shiny with unshed tears. "Remember the Hand's last words? Time to go."

Annie nodded, her eyes wide, and ran off. Chris tried to capture that last image of her, but his eyes were fogged with tears he didn't want to shed. He wondered if he'd live to see her return.

Chapter Four: Exodus

Annie finally stopped running at the edge of the forest, too exhausted to run any farther. Her breath sobbed in her chest. It had all gone so wrong! Her favourite mate had become terrifying, alien. It was horrible. Unthinkable. She wished the Hand was there. She'd never missed It as much as she did at that moment. She never wanted to return to NornTown, and see Him again, her mutant lover. Ex-lover. The thought of him being near her again creeped her flesh. She shivered, even though it was a warm morning. Where to now? She thought, despairingly. Chris came out here quite often, so she had to move on. She continued stumbling east, into the dark undergrowth of the forest. Could she go and live on the Ettin Islands? They were supposed to be very unfriendly there.

However, the artefact was there. Maybe the Hand had had time to warn them that she would be coming. Why could only she reach it? Was she the only norn who would understand it? No, that couldn't be right- the Hand has said it was for Chris' use only. 'I think like the Hand' Chris had said. Had the Hand picked Chris as Its successor? Was that possible? Albia would not survive without the Hand- many norns would live short, brutish lives, and die young. She had to get that artefact.

With more energy, she headed east- to the ocean.


Chris knew that the old norn was dying. His breathing was getting shallower and harsher, and he was now too weak to cough. His name was Stephen, and he had a short white fuzz of hair, and an auburn sheen to his fur. His eyelashes were white above drooping, tired eyes.

"Chris?" He croaked. Chris hurried over and helped him sit up in his bed.

"What is it?"

"I..." Stephen started choking, a terrible gurgling rasp. Chris grabbed a bottle of cough medicine, and held it to his lips. "Thank you."

"It's nothing." He stood up and placed the bottle back on the nearby table.

Stephen's eyes become more distant. "The meadow is so pretty in spring..." he said, staring at nothing at all. By degrees, his eyes became glazed, and then closed as his breathing stopped.

Chris clenched and unclenched his hands, and trembled. He has never seen a norn die before. For a second he felt unable to breathe. He had done all he could but it wasn't enough! And now, unbeknownst to all other norns except him, Annie's father had died.


A clean, salty smell hung in the clear air. It was hot, hotter than Annie had expected it to be. She stood up in the boat, and looked ahead to the approaching island. From this distance she could just made out a crowd of figures waiting for her on the beach. Beyond them she could see the whole archipelago of islands, interlinked with bridges or boats.

The boat hit the gently shelving beach with a crunch. The group of norns strolled over to meet her. They were distinctly different to the norns on the mainland. Taller, and with touches of purple here and there. One female in the group caught her eye particularly- she had purple legs and arms covered with bright yellow and red spots. Annie wondered if they were painted on, since they looked very odd to her. She had purple eyes too! Just looking at her made Annie's eyes water.

The norns looked at her curiously; Annie sensed that leaping out of the boat onto their land might not be the best thing to do. She cleared her throat.

"Umm. I was sent here by the Hand. It asked me to get something for It." This did not create the reaction she expected. A dark coloured female, who oddly had no real hair to speak of- her body fur simply continued over her skull, snorted.

"You believe that myth still?"

"Myth? How can it be a myth? I don't understand!"

"Well," said the female condescendingly, "Have you actually ever seen this Hand?"

"Yes, of course I have!" This caused more comments from the crowd. The female narrowed her eyes.


"Well, this Spring. I saw it shortly after It died." Annie hung her head in grief. The norns' muttering became louder, and the female hushed them.

"We've never seen the Hand, and so we didn't think it existed. Maybe we were wrong to think that. Odd though, that It was seen on the mainland and not here"

Annie shrugged. "I don't know why that would be. It sent me here though. It's last message to me was that there was an artefact on the Islands that It wanted me to get." All the surrounding crowd erupted in uproar at this. The female's mouth dropped open.

"Th... this was in early spring?" she asked.

"Well, yes." Said Annie, puzzled.

"It seems, then you should be made welcome." She suddenly smiled brightly. "My name is Ynbru. I am the leader here. An object appeared in one of our caves this Spring. I don't know what good it will do you though- it's impossible for anyone to reach. Let me take you to see it." Ynbru marched off across the sand, and Annie hurried to keep up with her long legs, fervently hoping that she'd never have to learn to pronounce that name!


Seven norns were sick now. Two older norns had already died. Deborah was still alive, but weakening. Chris leaned heavily on a table scattered with various medicines. He was so tired! Sometimes he felt he didn't have the energy to simply walk across the room. At least it wasn't going to spread any further. NornTown, except for the invalids, was deserted for the first time in five generations.

When had he last slept? It was too long ago, for sure. His hand cramped, and his shook it vigorously to relieve the pain.

A coughing fit interrupted his thoughts. He picked up the bottle of cough medicine, and headed towards Thomas, the coughing norn. Halfway there, a sickening wave of weakness passed over him, and the bottle dropped from his clammy grasp to smash upon the floor.

"Oh no..." he gasped, and dropped to his knees, unable to support his weight any more. As he sank to the floor, the thought occurred to him that the plague had claimed an eighth victim.

Thomas continued coughing unabated. A hand, sticky with cough medicine, reached up towards him from the floor for a second, then lay still.


Annie had never heard of claustrophobia, but if she had, she would have been able to understand it only to well. This dark, damp cave seemed to get smaller every minute. She forced herself to breathe, and tried to ignore the powerful urge to just run back to the surface and the sunlight.

A torch sat in an alcove in the cave wall. It seemed to burn without need for fuel, and produced no smoke. It popped and crackled occasionally. Ynbru lead the way towards the end of the long, narrow passage into another cave. To Annie's relief it was a little bigger, although not as huge and magnificent as she had imagined.

"There." Ynbru pointed towards a tiny hold in the end of the far wall. It was just big enough to insert an arm into. Annie cautiously looked through it. A hollow lay beyond, and far beyond her grasp lay a pearly white plaque, about the size of her outstretched hand. It glowed faintly, illuminating the little cave with an odd, almost solid light.

"I can't reach that!" Annie cried. Ynbru shrugged.

"No one can. Maybe we are not supposed to."

"No. We need it, if any of us are going to survive. The Hand said it was for an emergency. I've got to try and reach it!" She stretched her arm through the hole, wishing with all her might to grab that smooth surface, trying to picture exactly where in the cave it was lying...

...and something miraculous happened. Annie felt something warm and smooth bump into her fingers. Crying out, she hurriedly withdrew her arm from the hole. In her hand lay the pearly white board.

"I.. I don't understand!" She wailed. The Islanders surrounding her broke into a clamour.

"The Power of the Past!" A norn called Saxh, shouted, staring at her in amazement.

"What does that mean? What happened?" All she wanted to do was throw the object as far away from her as she could.

Ynbru silenced the norns. "You have telekinesis, the power to move objects from afar." She replied. "It was rumoured to exist in prehistoric norns. I think you are an import yes? Do you remember your upbringing, or your parents?" she narrowed her eyes.

"No, I don't." Annie whispered in a shocked voice. "I had a virus that wiped out my memory."

"And I bet no one else caught this virus, and no one knows who your parents are!" said Ynbru, wryly.

"No." Admitted Annie. Had the Hand lied to her? Why this betrayal?

"You have a lot to find out about your past, it seems. Anyway, now you must go. Mainlanders are not welcome here. We would appreciate it if you do not come again."

Dumbly, Annie tottered out of the caves into the cheerful sunlight. It did nothing to thaw the ice that surrounded her heart.


NornTown was eerily deserted, quieter than Annie had ever seen. Before there had always been norns talking, picking carrots, or just sitting watching life go by. Now there was no one in sight at all. She crept through the buildings, listening for some sound of life. She heard a cough from one of the central houses near the garden. All her instincts told her to run away, to get away before she could catch it, but in her heart she knew that running away would be more harmful in the long run. Tentatively, she opened the door to the house.

An horrific sight greeted her. Six norns were lying on makeshift beds, some gasping for breath, others comatose. Deborah was curled up on her bed, so still that Annie knew she was dead.

"Annie?" A weak voice called from the floor. "Help me." She looked down to see Chris lying on his back, his breathing harsh. A smashed bottle lay nearby. It looked like Chris has simply dropped where he was standing. Annie stood transfixed, just wanting to run, far away from here. No, she said to herself. If Chris dies, we all die. Even as she thought this, she could hear his breathing getting weaker. She kneeled beside him, put her arm around him and hauled him upright. He was very hot, and she could feel how painfully thin he was. He coughed, and his face contorted with pain.

"I got it Chris. The artefact." She pressed the white slate into his hands. As soon as he touched it, it lit up with a multitude of symbols and letters.

"It's..." Suddenly a coughing fit came over him, and the plaque slipped from his grasp. Annie cast about the room, looking for some cough mixture. She could see some on a table, some distance away. She reached out her hand, and it shot across the room into her grasp. She gave it to Chris, and he took a gulp. He picked the tablet up off the floor.

"It shows all of our chemistry, for every single norn in Albia!" Chris stated, he voice roughened from coughing. "I can inject things..." He lapsed into silence, and fiddled with some of the symbols on the artefact. The norns in the room began to revive, stretching and looking around blearily.

"What did you do?" Annie gasped.

"I gave us all an injection of Antibody 58. It will end the infection. We're all safe now. Maybe I should give you an injection too, make sure you don't catch it." Already, Chris' voice sounded stronger as the toxins began to leave his body. Annie saw her name appear on the screen, then Chris dropped the tablet in surprise.

"What's the matter?" She asked, in sudden alarm. Had he found out that she was imported? His next words, however, shot down that theory in flames.

"You're pregnant. In your fourth term too. That means it must have happened when you were still recovering." He smiled. "I bet it was that time in the forest."

"When? I don't remember that!"

"I'm not surprised. As I said, you were still recovering."

Annie wrinkled her nose in disgust. "And you took advantage of me?"

"No" His face lit up in pure joy, an expression she had rarely seen on his face. Suddenly, he looked very handsome. "You took advantage of me! But I'm glad you did. I've always wanted to have children." He placed his arm around her shoulders, and she helped him to his feet.

Once, Annie had wanted nothing to do with this strange mutant norn, but now, with his warm arms around her, she realised that he cared for her in a way no other norn ever would. She couldn't wish for a better mate, or a better father for her child.


"I wonder what controls egg colour?" Chris mused. Annie smiled inwardly. He always did go off at tangents when nervous. They were sitting in their house, staring at the vibrating green egg. Outside, a harsh winter wind blew, but the room was heated with an orange glowing fire.

"I don't know. Maybe it's just random." Annie shrugged.

"That doesn't seem quite right somehow." But before Chris could expand on the point, a cracking noise interrupted him. He leapt to his feet and ran towards the egg, but Annie got there first. She stroked the surface of the shell, crooning nonsense words to the tiny baby inside, encouraging it to come into the world.

A little hand covering in damp blond fur emerged and groped around the side of the trembling egg. Annie lifted the top of the shell off, and the baby male norn inside started crying loudly in shock. He had blond fur, and a short layer of white hair on his head. Currently his little face was screwed up in confusion and panic at this disruption to his world, but as Annie picked him up and held him, the crying slowly ceased. To Annie, it seemed suddenly difficult to breathe, and she felt as if all she ever wanted in the world was to hold her own son in her arms. A gentle hand rested on her arm, and Chris peeked over her shoulder. The babe opened deep green eyes and stared at him, and for a brief second, before his eyes filled with tears, Chris saw that the child's eyes had a look to them he had seen in no other norn outside of a mirror. The look of a norn that cared. At last, he wasn't alone.