The Bodyguard


When, according to the Herbaht religion, the great Goddess sent her two only begotten daughters, it was in order to spread the love and knowledge of their mother all about the world.

They did a good job at least as far as London, where the belief in the Goddess spread faster than they had expected, even amongst the human population. The Church of the Goddess was considered by many non-believers to be nothing more than a designer religion. Its members officially believed that if they were found worthy enough of the Herbaht Goddess, then she might repeat a minor miracle that she had supposedly performed shortly after her daughters first came to the planet. Back then, two humans had been altered by the Goddess in order to turn them into suitable mates for the two daughters. Another reason people joined the church, and quite possibly the more realistic of the two, was the hope that by following the same Goddess as the Herbaht, they might somehow make themselves immune to the hunters.

The two daughters took on the mantels of Matriarch, the elder sister calling herself the Greater Matriarch and the younger sister taking on the title of the Lesser Matriarch. In contrast, it was the younger of the two who, with her ‘altered’ husband, seemed to have done the most to advance the belief in the Goddess.

The other main source of belief in the Goddess was obviously from the Herbaht. All of them could claim a lineage back to one or the other of the two Matriarchs, although since it had been nearly a thousand years since the Matriarchs first came to the planet and the life expectancy of the average Herbaht, barring accidents, was little more than forty years, most non-believers, including those that existed among the Herbaht, doubted that the Matriarchs were still the same as the originals.

The Herbaht actually had no official name for their religion; they just believed. There were no regular meetings among the faithful, nor was there an official holy book or any relics of their faith; they simply believed.


There were two types of disguise that the Herbaht would wear, depending on what they were planning to do that day. The most popular involved little more than the blending of colors with the Herbaht’s own skin tones in order to hide the stripes. The more complex involved creating an actual mask, which was a lot more complicated and still needed to be blended in to match the Herbaht wearing it, but it had the advantage that supposedly not even the most alert human, not even a member of the Elite Guard, would recognize a Herbaht wearing such a disguise.

Myajes Conjah was wearing the latter type of disguise, and yet, walking through the center of London as he was, surrounded almost constantly on all sides by those he thought of as herd, he was nervous. Few members of his race would come to a place like this unless they really had to. And as he walked the streets, trying not to look too suspicious, he couldn’t help but wonder if maybe he could have achieved his goal in a part of the city that wasn’t so crowded.

As well as his disguise, he was dressed in casual clothing: tight gray jeans which did little to hide his tail bulge and a loose black synthetic leather jacket which helped a little more. He wore a pair of black casual shoes and carried a plastic shopping bag, which contained a few things he had purchased whilst shopping. Under his jacket, hidden carefully in a specially-made pocket, was a small laser pistol, though on this sort of excursion the last thing he expected was to have to use it. At least he hoped he wouldn’t; surrounded as he was by so many of the herd, the use of the weapon would most likely also spell the end of him.

Myajes really wasn’t keen on the city. There were too many humans. The smell was too rich with their sweaty bodies and too crowded so that he felt jostled constantly as he tried to walk along the streets. He always did his best to ignore the attitudes of the herd here; as much as he might like to assert himself, it would be only too easy to slip up and give himself away.

According to the real religion and not the human version of it, the closer your relationship to one of the Matriarchs, then the more divinity you had. Myajes was the son of the daughter of one of the sons of the Lesser Matriarch and Patriarch. Not that he really felt all that much more divine, but being so close to the spiritual leaders of the race did perhaps allow him to be better informed as to the actual history of the Herbaht religion–secrets that only those among the highest ranking would know, though, of course, it was still wrapped in a religious coating and liberally sprinkled with hyperbole.

Thanks to his relationship to the Matriarch and his supreme physical capabilities, Myajes was granted one of the coveted positions of bodyguard to the Lesser Matriarch. It was a great honor to hold such a position, although all it really meant was that it was his job to delay the human soldiers long enough to buy the Matriarch and her husband time to escape if it should ever come to it. Other than that, he was little more than a glorified servant, doing odd jobs about the house and running the occasional errand.

The particular errand Myajes had been sent on this time was really more than just an errand. Lara, the youngest daughter of the Lesser Matriarch, had been captured by the Elite Guard a day or two ago and was now residing in a small cell in the prison camp known simply as the Cattery.

It had been more luck than anything that a Herbaht, out hunting, had seen Lara as she was taken, struggling, from the house in which she had been living for the last two years. Indeed, she hadn’t been in contact with her parents except through the occasional couriers. Lara didn’t trust the human phone system, postal system or even the internet, and would use them only when in the direst of need.

The first step in the rescue was finding the camp. It wouldn’t be easy. The herd were well aware that if the location of the camp was common knowledge, then the Herbaht might try an attack in force and attempt a rescue of all the prisoners. Myajes knew that the camp was sited somewhere to the west ofLondon, probably just outside its outskirts. Most likely, it was on some road that could be easily bypassed to prevent people from accidentally straying upon it, and then hidden in plain sight, pretending to be something it wasn’t.

The problem was finding a map of the area. The herd seemed to be so protective of the area that even a map of just the roads that passed through the forest to the west of the city were virtually impossible to come by. Those that would drive those roads tended to use GPS pathfinders to direct them. And even they wouldn’t allow a close examination of the area in question, as they usually would for practically everywhere else in the country.

He paused for a moment at a bookstore. Bookstores usually sold both paper and computer versions of books. They would also have readers for the computer books, small and fairly cheap mini-computers, no bigger than a paperback, into which the cartridge for the book was plugged and could be read. Paper was still the most popular way to read a book, though. He peered in through the windows; there was a stack of maps on a shelf in the corner of the shop, but they were the same ones that he had seen everywhere else. What he really needed was a specialized map. Even if it didn’t point out the Cattery, he might be able to make intelligent guesses. But obviously that was why finding such a map seemed next to impossible.

The natural light was virtually gone now, replaced by big, heavy-duty street lights that illuminated the street more clearly than the sun had. Myajes felt that he was getting nowhere. He could head west and hope he’d be lucky, but with the amount of forest he would have to search, it could take all year. Lara would be dead by then unless they found out who she was. And if they did discover her true identity, she’d probably be taken to somewhere even more secure than where she was now, if such a place existed.

As Myajes reached the next intersection, he noticed a large shopping mall right opposite. Above the main entrance was a large screen; most of the time it was used for advertising, but today it seemed to have been hijacked by some authority. The screen was cycling through the country’s ten most wanted.

Myajes decided he’d turn right here, but had to stop, as a large crowd had gathered under the screen to see who was listed, blocking the way on. It was interesting to consider that although many herd seemed quite interested in who was on the list, few if any would actually like to meet one of them in the flesh. Myajes pushed his way through the crowd as best he could, trying to continue, but he couldn’t help but look at the screen as he passed. Chance was that he was on that list somewhere, and though he’d deny having such an ego, he couldn’t help but wonder what number he was.

The screen started a new cycle. A large ‘1’ accompanied the first picture in the top left corner of the picture. The picture itself was that of the Lesser Matriarch. The legend beneath proclaimed that too, with the comment to the side that her real name was unknown. She was beautiful, very deeply striped and with very yellow eyes. It had been said that even herd had fallen in love with her image, and Myajes himself still found it hard to believe that anyone so lovely could exist, despite the fact that he saw her in the flesh nearly every day.

Next was the Lesser Patriarch. He was quite a contrast: fairly handsome, but his stripes were virtually non-existent. If it hadn’t been for his eyes, he could have probably passed for herd without having to wear any makeup. He was quite a contrast from the deep the coloring of his wife.

The third was a herd. Myajes didn’t know him and had never heard of him, but the legend on the screen claimed the man was some sort of renegade, a card-carrying member of the Church of the Goddess. He had apparently attacked and killed a number of soldiers to free a group of besieged Herbaht. It was true that occasionally a human with stronger-than-normal feelings about the Goddess would take up arms against his own people on behalf of the Herbaht, but they were few and far between, though there were a few notable historical examples. Nevertheless, Myajes was skeptical, and he felt it was far more likely to be some elaborate hoax, an attempt to get some herd into the confidence of the Herbaht.

The fourth was also human and fairly young. It seemed that this one had nothing to do with the Herbaht at all. He was a young drug baron who had built up a small empire in the center of the city. Normally this wouldn’t be enough to get him to fourth place, but according to the blurb, he had recently wiped out a rival during a gun battle in the streets that had endangered and indeed killed many innocent citizens.

The fifth was a group picture, a group of seven Herbaht who appeared to actually be posing for the picture. It seemed that other than being Herbaht, which was usually crime enough, they had robbed a series of shops. There was something not quite right about two of the figures in the picture; maybe it had been enhanced or something.

The sixth picture was Myajes himself–not a very flattering picture, but then he wasn’t exactly standing still so they could take it. The legend explained to the crowd that Myajes was the bodyguard of the Lesser Matriarch. That, it seemed, was all that was needed.

The next three pictures were of each of the other bodyguards. One was male (his brother Jamick), the other two female (his half-sister Hamdrill and her half-sister Mickie).

By the eighth image, though, Myajes had scrambled through the crowd and was strolling down the road relatively unhindered, except perhaps for the other people going the same way that seemed to have no feeling of urgency.

Myajes was lucky that the soldier he suddenly noticed approaching with the sniffer dog was downwind of him, so he smelled the soldier before the dog got scent of him. The soldier was alone, likely just walking the dog and not expecting an encounter.

Sniffer dogs were trained for the smell of Herbaht. Usually they would bark to notify their handler that they were on the trail.

Myajes had had a long day; he really didn’t want to kill the man, thus revealing himself to all those watching. It was a crowded road, and even if the crowd panicked and scattered he’d have a hard time getting away before more soldiers were sent for. Besides, how many of those in the crowd might have a go themselves? Many were likely armed, and if only one percent of those armed in the crowd tried to shoot him, he’d be dead before nightfall and no use at all to Lara then.

There was this one herd by the name of Slim Dorris, (Myajes was sure that wasn’t his real name), but he had gotten a reputation as a Herbaht killer by being in a crowd such as this when three Herbaht had been forced to break cover together. This herd was called a hero now. How many ‘heroes’ might there be waiting to prove themselves amidst this crowd?

He headed back towards the shopping mall. Hopefully he’d be safely in the mall before the dog picked up his scent, and if the soldier had half as much trouble as he had had getting through the crowd gathered at the big screen, he could use the time to escape.

Again the crowd insisted on blocking his way, and he heard the dog barking long before he had entered the mall. He looked back, unable to resist seeing where the soldier was and what he intended to do.

The soldier was looking up into the crowd. Myajes was sure that he and the soldier made eye-to-eye contact across the distance. The soldier must have known he was the one the dog had caught the scent of. And there was plenty more crowd to work his way through. He then knew the soldier would have no trouble following; he’d just ask the crowd to let him through. Tell them he was chasing a Herbaht and he’d be on Myajes before he made it to the mall.

The soldier looked down at his dog, then up into the crowd again. He seemed to be smiling directly at Myajes, and then he pulled the dog’s leash and started heading back the way he had come.

Myajes felt his entire body relax. He let out a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding. The soldier hadn’t wanted a confrontation either, especially not as he was on his own. It seemed that discretion was the better part of valor.

He even felt a bit of respect for the soldier; Myajes knew who he was, whereas the soldier had no idea who the dog had caught scent of. He was sure that he had imagined that the soldier had been looking at him now. The soldier hadn’t allowed testosterone to make him act rashly and get himself, and probably Myajes, killed.

As he entered the mall, he thought for a moment that at least the prison camp wouldn’t have any sniffer dogs. With the number of Herbaht prisoners they had, the dog’s barking would drive the guards crazy. Of course, they might have normal guard dogs there.

There were four levels of the mall, with escalators and elevators and even stairs going between each level. The big important department stores were on the lowest floor where the rent was highest, and some of these were on more than one floor themselves, having their own elevators or stairs to move from one floor to the next.

The third and fourth floors were smaller and more specialized. Some of these shops were even in the price range of small business owners who still felt they were paying too much for their little space.

Myajes hadn’t really planned to come into the mall at all, but now that he was here he tried to make his way through the stinking crush of bodies to the bottom of the nearest escalator. There was a map of the mall and a list of the shops in the mall here. Spending a couple of minutes here could save him a lot of time.

On the fourth floor of the mall was a map shop. It didn’t mean much to him; he had been in a lot of map shops so far today, and not one had had anything that might be of use. They all had the same maps ofLondonand nothing of the forest to the west.

He was tired and his mind was feeling numb from the day’s search, but he couldn’t afford to allow even the slightest possibility of a lead to get away. He got on the escalator and made his way up to the fourth floor.

It was a small shop. A small opening between two glass walls allowed ingress. A very bored-looking shopkeeper sat at the counter to the left of the entry as he walked in. The shopkeeper looked up briefly but seemed more interested in the book he was reading than in potentially making a sale. To the right of the entryway there was a set of cascading shelves containing books of maps, books on maps and books on the history of mapmaking. The other two walls seemed to contain wine racks, but the various partitions were currently being used by large rolled-up maps. In the middle of the shop there was even a table so these could be unfurled and checked properly to see if they were really what the customer was looking for.

Myajes turned to face the shopkeeper, but the man seemed so engrossed in his book that he didn’t respond at all.

‘Do you have any large maps of the forest?’ Myajes asked. He didn’t think it likely, but he had to ask.

The man grumbled to himself and placed the book he was reading grumpily down on the counter, keeping it open to the page he was on. ‘Which forest?’

‘The one just to the west of us,’ Myajes responded, a little surprised. What forest did the man think he meant?

‘Which era?’ The shopkeeper walked over to the further of the two wine racks and began to check through them.

‘As recent as possible!’ Myajes replied.

The shopkeeper shook his head slowly and moved away from the racks. ‘I have nothing of that area printed in this century. I guess the roads that pass through that part of the country don’t change enough to require new maps all that often.’

Myajes couldn’t help wondering how often the streets inLondonitself changed, since there seemed to have been a deluge of such maps during his search.

The man moved over to the rack of books and pulled one off the shelves. ‘I seem to remember seeing an old one in here, a historically important map because it’s the last one ever made of the area.’ He flipped through the book until he found the right page and then handed it to Myajes. It was quite a large format book, maybe eleven inches by nine, but the map shown only took up half a page.

Myajes looked at the map for a moment, finding it very hard to make out any of the details. The caption claimed it was printed over seventy years ago. ‘Do you also sell magnifying glasses?’

‘I don’t,’ the shopkeeper commented, ‘although I have no doubt you can find one in the mall somewhere. I do, however, have one for incidental use. I just can’t sell it to you.’

‘Is it powerful?’ Myajes asked.

‘Well, it’s intended for use with the larger maps, but I’m sure it’ll be better than nothing,’ the shopkeeper replied. He fetched the glass from its normal home behind the counter.

Myajes didn’t have a lot of hope as he examined the map, but the Cattery had been there for a few hundred years, so maybe there would be some clue on this map. If only it had been bigger. No doubt the publisher had been given instructions not to print a readable-sized version by the same people who had prevented any map being printed since.

The roads seemed to have no real form to them. If there was any clue in where the roads went, then he wasn’t seeing it. A couple of the roads seemed to lead nowhere. The words ‘nature reserve’ sat on the ends of these roads; they were unlikely to put something like that in a place they didn’t want people to visit.

Something then caught his eye. It was a road in the forest leading to a small camp that bore the legend Army Training Camp and Grounds — Keep out. It was true that there might have been an army camp there seventy years ago. There might even be a good chance it was still there. A forest like this might be ideal for those in the military who wanted to put on the occasional war game, and a nearby billet would be perfect, but something about it seemed wrong. Myajes couldn’t be sure it was the right place, but it’d be a good place to start. If he was wrong, he’d just have to study the map again.

‘Do you want the book?’ the shopkeeper asked.

‘I’ll take it,’ Myajes responded, ‘and if you can tell me where I might find a magnifying glass of my own I’ll be most grateful.’

‘One of the stationers on the first floor ought to have what you want,’ the shopkeeper replied as he made his way back behind the counter to ring up the bill.


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