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By Laura Givens
Grand Ol’ Space Opry
At seven years old Ryan James had learned that there were three things he should always do before he went EVA; always go to the bathroom first, the filters could handle your waste but it wasn’t very comfortable; make sure somebody, besides yourself, checks your suit; and always give a big old Kentucky-rebel yell as you hit the vacuum.
This last item served several functions; it tested the com system, it helped equalize blood oxygen levels (or so he’d been told) but mostly it gave notice to the universe at large that a Southern boy was coming through, so watch out! At twenty seven he still followed these tenets, especially the third one, especially whenever Silas was on Communications duty.
“Damn it, Ryan!” Swore Silas Lapekes! “I told you to cut that crap out!” Ryan exploded out of the hatch flinging himself to the full extension of his tether before he bounced back toward the ship doing a triple summersault and jamming feet first onto the side of the good ship, Molly Brown, where his sticky field soles stuck like well-cooked spaghetti.
“Why, Silas, I’m just following the wishes of my dear, sainted Mamma.” Ryan drawled.
Silas shook his head and smiled in spite of himself. Ryan’s ‘sainted Mamma’, Maggie James, was a pop-riveter over on the MacDougal’s Folly and she could out-drink and out-curse any twelve marines.
“Well, just show a little consideration, huh? I’ve had to replace my headphones three times since you came aboard.” Silas scratched at the phantom itch between his knee and his prosthesis.
“I can’t promise a thing. A lifetime of strict training and discipline is a hard habit to break. As he waited for the next man out, he looked around to see the mountain hovering nearby, squinting his eyes to make out details. “Well, fellas, it’s another glorious spring morning in the cosmic Ozarks! I’ve got me a fresh, new lemon filter in the ol’ whiz-womper and PBJ and banana squares in the lunch box, yum! What more could a growin’ boy ask for.” Joe’s head popped out of the airlock and he offered the newcomer a hand. “What’s on the old agenda for today anyway?”
Ryan James was third generation spacer and he’d never set foot on any planet, much less Earth – much less Kentucky. His great grandfather, Hiram, had been an eastern Kentucky coal miner and had seen that way of life coming to an end. Coal mining was a dirty, dangerous way to make a living, but it was an honest day’s work, and great granddaddy was a proud man. He made sure his son, Earl, got a college degree and learned a trade that would get him out those hollers and into the future.
Hiram’s boy became, what was called in those days, an astronaut and granddaddy Earl was one of the first permanent residents of Tranquility Heights, the Moon’s premier underground habitat facility. He dug tunnels. He was a miner.
Maggie, Ryan’s Mamma, ran away from home at the age of seventeen, heading for the romance of wildcatting in the asteroid belt. She married a red-headed young scoundrel named Billy James and they both just knew that they’d strike it big out where there was plenty of elbow room. Billy promised her the stars but a ruptured plasma tank rudely awakened him from his youthful dreams. He lived for three days with radiation burns covering half his body, but died without ever seeing his unborn son. The void was Ryan’s home.
“Joe, you make an interesting point, however I don’t think you can really classify Bugs Bunny as a classical transvestite.” Ryan said as he planted both his feet into the rock face and heaved at the control lever with all his might. The darned thing had been jammed into neutral by a stray handful of pebbles on an eccentric orbit of asteroid K3N4-55730, AKA Rock 30. He was trying to loosen the stick just enough that his partner, Joe Saxon, could clean out the grit.
Joe replied, “I’m just saying that more than once, that rabbit got himself all gussied up and he’s flirting with Elmer one second and then, BAM!, old Elmer’s laid out from a hammer up side his head.” Joe looked up from his labors and frowned, “Happened to me once on Midas Station.”
Suddenly Joe’s micro jet blasts dislodged the dirt and Drill Site F-1 came dramatically back to life. Huge steel beams swung overhead and the drill shaft resumed its ponderous rotation boring deep into the heart of Rock 30.
Ryan banged his gloves together and smiled at the silent ballet of giants that surrounded him. “The point is, you never saw Bugs get all dressed up when he was by himself, you know, just because he got off on it” He extended his hand to help Joe get out of the drill hole. “I knew a good old boy on my last ship, he liked to wear women’s clothing and there wasn’t a thing wrong with it. Nice fella, helluva dancer. Now, I will grant you that getting all feminined up and going around hitting people in the head with a hammer, or what have you, though hilarious, is just plain anti-social. Old Bugs did that sort of thing to Elmer whether he was dressed up or not.”
Joe took a long sip of apple juice from his helmet dispenser, contemplating the proposition. With a lop-sided grin Ryan added, “Yeah, I guess ol’ Elmer should be more careful what sort of rabbit he’s got when he’s looking for tail.”
Joe sputtered and came dangerously close to baptizing his interior faceplate with juice.
Nine months ago Ryan had signed onto the Molly Brown as an able rigger and met Joe, who was on his fourth tour aboard the Molly. They hit it off immediately. Joe was a black man from Detroit, Earth and so qualified as both a gravity hog and a damned Yankee but Ryan tried not to hold any of that against him. Joe was often surly and would just as soon fight you as look at you some days. This was despite the fact that he stood all of five foot nothing and weighed less than Ryan’s duffle bag. But, there was no guile in him and he laughed at the same stupid things that tickled Ryan and was mostly pissed off at the right things as well. The two of them could work together all shift long and still find subjects of mutual interest. Rigging wasn’t the most intellectually challenging of professions so it was important to have somebody around who could you engage in serious BS.
The day of mere space station building was ending and now the big conglomerates were building entire cities in space. The plan was that these cities would siphon off Earth’s teeming masses and be fitted with the new Jablonsky Drives to take them to seed the stars. At least that was the theory. In practice, the three such cities that had been started were nowhere near completion, and belt mining was still a boom industry, supplying all the raw material needed. Mining equipment on this gargantuan scale was supposed to be pretty much automated but it still took a lot of human bodies, and human know how, to deal with the unexpected chaos of mountains in freefall.
The next three hours were relatively uneventfully. Number three coolant line had a leak to be mended and the slag-muncher had bowel trouble again – same old, same old. Then, just as he was ready to call it a day, Janey Doakes came zooming in and grabbed him by the boot which sent them into a pinwheel for a second before Ryan could compensate. “Hey, Ryan, glad I caught you.” She said. “We’ve got an incoming and you and Joe have been nominated to do the honors.”
Ryan and Joe both rolled their eyes. “Can’t it wait till tomorrow? I got me a date after chow.” Joe pleaded.
Trying to be supportive, Ryan piped in, “Yeah, and I’ve been holding it in all afternoon to preserve my brand new lemon filter.”
Janey and Ryan had shared a bunk for a while but that had ended when she had been promoted to pit boss. “Look you two, this order comes down from Humper himself!” She clicked over to a privacy channel, just in case. “Don’t think that the Tool Pusher doesn’t know it was you that slipped him the helium tab when he gave the corporate big rocks a tour last week. Made him sound like a chipmunk! He can’t prove it, but trust me you don’t need to give him any excuses to look any harder.” Janey clicked back to local traffic channel. “So, gentlemen, do you understand your assignment?” Both men nodded resignedly, “Good, then I want you to sign out a scooter and requisition a couple of mass pushers.” Janey pushed off toward the command shack.
“How do I break this to Maude? It’s her birthday and I had something real special to give her.” Joe sighed.
Ryan nodded his head, “Some folks have got no sense of humor at all.”
The scout had come into the solar system cold. He feared the reaction of the machines if he were detected. Previous scouts had determined that the third planet of this system was occupied by numerous species, only one of which seemed nominally clever. It had troubled his people that these beings had never ventured off their planet, as that was usually considered one of the signs of actual intelligence by leading scientists. Instead, over the past hundred cycles or so, they had sent machinery out into their system, intricate machineries, many of which looked like mechanical surrogates of the beings themselves. Once you matured and left your cradle world, so the common wisdom said, you put away your toys, such as machines. What was most distressing was that the machines were now dismantling other orbiting bodies to manufacture yet more machines. The implications were staggering! Unchecked, within a mere million cycles they would have converted every bit of usable matter in their solar system into machines that could replicate themselves. After that it was only a matter of time before they would have to search out new solar systems to destroy. The obvious solution was to accelerate this star to supernova and destroy this blight.
The scout, a hero of several expeditions named Brill’thh, was here to execute a daring plan. His assignment was to get close enough to the ravaging onslaught of the machines to analyze their virus-like expansion and determine if they were too wide spread to get past with no loss of life. If only there were some way to safely communicate with the planetary beings what was happening beyond their atmosphere.
Three days ago Brill’thh had instructed his navigator, a symbiotic brain-slug, that he wished to set up base on an asteroid, near the machine colony which lay ahead. The slug was an excellent calculator (and always seemed to be able to find, and scratch, Brill’thh’s most out of the way itches). They arrived safely with a minimum of fuss. He had spent his time, since arrival, carefully secreting layer upon layer of lenses with a direct link to both his ocular nerve and his brain-slug’s data center. He’d even exuded an atmosphere dome so he could enjoy soothing sounds while he worked. His would be the closest observations ever made of this phenomenon and he was terrified.
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By Tyree Campbell
A Nice Girl Like You
“She just sat down at the corner table,” said Big Gooey.
I braced myself with a slug of bootleg Jameson’s before turning my head discreetly toward Tsebieh. “She looks human,” I said, after he had wiped the counter around my drink with a flourish. The maneuver failed to repair the maculate condition of the faux hardwood.
“DNA splice,” explained Big Gooey, as he probed his ear with the point of a tusk the size of my forearm. He looked strong enough to have removed it from the creature while it was still alive. His mustache bristled, the last twitch of a sepia burrowing animal that had crawled onto Gooey’s lip only to succumb to his breath. “Experimental thing. She shoulda died.”
I looked again. Tsebieh was not of that physical type which invites second glances. She was sitting on a bench at a window booth on this side of the Universe, at just enough angle for me to catch the tiny downward curls of the corners of her mouth while a stevedore from a galleon newly arrived at the Spaceport braced an arm on the table and broached his offer. Nobody ever fell in love here in the Tarry A’Dea, but now and then some of the patrons tumbled into lust. Anyone could see from the expression on her face that she was having none of it—anyone except the stevedore. As he leaned down, placing more weight on his arm, Tsebieh made a little move quicker than my eye could follow, and in the next instant the stevedore’s chin cracked on the tabletop and the wrist of that arm was in her grasp just above the debris-cluttered floor. She had slender, pale fingers, delicate-looking in the shadows under the table, yet clearly she held his limb in a grip of iron. Her mouth moved, and words whistled just far enough to reach his ears and his alone. Then she released him, and he departed, rather more swiftly than he had arrived, blood welling through the gash in his chin and dripping onto his traveled gray pullover, where it added to an unsavory retinue of other stains.
“Does she ever say ‘yes’ to anyone?” I asked Big Gooey.
For an instant Gooey’s eyes darkened to tangerine, and I knew I’d asked a borderline question. Everyone has a history. Those who don’t want theirs probed sometimes migrate out here to Chthonia, living ad hoc lives, unable for a variety of reasons to return to their worlds of origin, and he was wondering whether I’d meant to violate the no-pry rule. Then the eyes reverted to their normal color, not quite lemon, not quite pus, and under the mustache his thick lips parted in what was, for him, a flicker of amusement.
“Depends on the question, Mac.”
I’d seen no need to burden him with Emer Bridget McClafferty, which is what appeared in the natal records long ago and far away, or with any of the other names I’d adopted during the subsequent thirty seven Standard years. Big Gooey would presume an alias no matter what I gave him, and “Mac” was generic enough to render plausible, if necessary, a case of mistaken identity.
Nursing the first two drinks, I hadn’t revealed what it was I wanted to ask Tsebieh, only that I had need of assistance from someone of her reputed talents. It was unnecessary to add a wink and a nudge. Big Gooey knew damn well what I was referring to, and he wanted in the worst way to ask me just how the hell I’d come to know about her, but he, too, had to maintain the no-pry protocols, although, being a bartender, he was permitted considerable leeway.
I scanned the rack of tins against the wall behind him. “Warm up a bowl of gretel, please. And side it with some of those crackers.”
Big Gooey’s eyebrows merged like rutting caterpillars as he fulfilled the request, setting the nuke to a proper 356 degrees Kelvin and the timer to twenty five seconds. I spread three small silver coins on the countertop, and as the nuke signaled the end of its programmed task they disappeared into Gooey’s huge paw. Whatever his opinion of my imminent ploy, he would not interfere.
The uncovered stoneware tureen Gooey presented me on a saucer contained a viscous brick-red liquid full of pink and reseda vermiform chunks. Proper gretel resembles nothing so much as “entrail stew,” and although this had come from a tin, it retained the pungent, distinctive odor of decomposition. Gingerly I carried the tureen and its steaming repast to her table, and noted the do-not-disturb frown with which she greeted me.
She had the rich voice of a cello, played with a taut steel bow. “I ordered nothing.”
“This is for me.”
She arched one auburn eyebrow at me, her only response.
I remained standing. “I can’t remember whether you mix the crackers into the gretel, or eat them separately. I was hoping you’d know.”
She gave me a five-count. “It makes no difference.”
“Thanks. I didn’t want to insult the meal by—”
I did so. After another pause, Tsebieh said, “Gretel probably won’t do you any harm, but I doubt you’ll like it.”
“So you think I should just eat the crackers?”
“You’ve done your homework.”
“Some of it. Not enough. Would you care for this, then?”
She gazed out into the moonless night, her pale eyes shadowed by the infinite black and by a past I could only guess at. You don’t escape from GenTail’s Abyss without killing someone. Even someone with her gifts would have to dispatch the field generator tech.
“It’s not magic, what I do,” Tsebieh said, still fixed on the blackness. Her words spilled onto my ears like spring rain, just before the flowers come up. If I hadn’t remembered she possessed an alimentary canal capable of digesting gretel, I might have been entranced. “It’s mathematical. That’s why the field generator works. There are limitations. I can only go to places I’ve been, or seen, or have a clear vision of. And I must be in physical contact with the world of their location. And no, I don’t read minds. They had developed the DNA splice for that, but upon further consideration realized that their own minds would become transparent as well. Possibly one day they’ll develop a splice that will enable someone to block a mind probe…” Suddenly her eyes widened. Then, turning back to me, she said very softly, “No. Besides, all the data for the telepathy splice is on computer. No hard copies. And the computer is absolutely impenetrable. It’s the ultimate no-hacking zone. There’s even a dampening field surrounding it, a countermeasure against explosives.”
Tsebieh was talking too much. I wondered how long she had examined the possibilities from all angles, weighing this method of entry against that, measuring obstacles against her abilities, until futility set in. She’d begun life as a vegetable, and now, on Chthonia, she was regressing to that mental state.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the tureen of gretel slid across the tabletop to her…and vanished, as did she. But she left me the crackers.
Like taverns everywhere that cater to clandestine activities limited by various ill-conceived statutes, the Tarry A’Dea let rooms on its second level for various periods of time, some measured in minutes, some in years. During prolonged absences from their normal surroundings, people become lonely or bored, and biological relief without the complications of emotional attachments can be had, like any other goods or services, for a price. (You pay someone to cut your hair, right? Although you could cut it yourself, someone else, properly trained, makes a better job of it, right?) On the way to the stairs and up, I received no less than three come-hithers, including one from a young woman whose maculate attire and disheveled condition clearly bespoke a desperation for funds. Passing her by, I scrawled a mental note to have Big Gooey present her with a complimentary meal or two, and arrange for her to “find” a couple leafs of folded currency. As to the other offers, while I certainly appreciate a man who comes and goes, I was not in the mood. Tsebieh had vanished from the booth, but now that we had established contact, however tenuous, she might pop in at any time. And there are some activities that should not be popped-in upon.
I’d taken a room at the far end of the hallway, next to the emergency exit—events that constitute emergencies are not limited to fires, and in my line of work it’s always prudent to have multiple escape routes. The touchpad on the wall beside the doorjamb accepted the code Gooey had given me, and as the door slid open the traditional odors of old exhalations, stale love, and something edible left out too long whistled past me and down the hallway like liberated ghosts. A dim ceiling panel began to glow at a touch to the wall pad, yielding just enough light for me to see that the single room was unoccupied and that the bed was empty, covered, and too small for two—although, to be fair, couples in this room seldom slept far apart, if at all. The single window was closed, the heavy drapes pulled, and I doubted there was enough light to silhouette me to the casual viewer outside. In the shadows of a far corner stood a rack on which I might hang my clothing, and beside that a commode and a sink. If I wanted a shower, I’d have to use the common room.
The bed squeaked when I sat down, further dampening any nocturnal ambitions I might have had. There were places in the Universe where the rhythms of life were accompanied by cheers and applause, but not here, where yielding bedsprings announced the vulnerability of one or both of the participants to anyone who would do harm. Perforce celibate, I could only wait for developments, and doze cautiously in the meantime.
I reckoned more than half the night had passed by the time Tsebieh entered. She did not use the door. In one moment I was alone, in the next she was standing before me, and in the next I had the ancient military automatic pistol out and aimed at her gut.
She withdrew a pace. “What is that?”
I carry a pistol because most security detectors are keyed to plastic and energy cells, not to metal, and because firing it makes enough noise to startle an adversary, a useful advantage in the event the first bullet fails to find its mark. I did not tell her this.
“Next time, knock,” I groused.
Long ago Tsebieh had been developed as an alien sentient species—they’d done good work on her. The light that shone from above and behind her cast her face in delicate grays and glows, the humanizing effect startling, and I averted my eyes, blinking away the entrancement.
“I’m not going back there.”
“You don’t have to,” I said. “Just get me inside.”
And I thought, Insane is what they did to you.
Between the booth and now she’d changed to a rugged travel outfit of cammie jacket and denims, and sturdy black boots. Chthonia is not known for ease of terrain. She’d made up her mind to flee into the hinterlands.
So why come to see me?
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By J Alan Erwine
The Opium of the People
Albert stumbled away from the flames and smoke, coughing as he reached the sidewalk. All around him voices cried out as if in ecstasy each time the conflagration behind him grew in intensity. Albert panicked when he felt someone grab his arm. He turned, expecting to see a soldier from the Guards of the Holy Order. Instead, he was rewarded by the hostile glare of an angry youth. Albert coughed more forcefully. “Can’t breathe…”
The kid sent Albert sprawling to the pavement with a rough push and the mob drew away toward the fire. Albert picked himself up and frowned at his skinned palms. Automatically, he looked around for his glasses, but then he remembered he’d had genetic implants put in a month earlier. After twenty years of wearing glasses, it was difficult to get used to his new eyes.
Behind him, Albert heard the voices of the mob reaching a crescendo. He didn’t need to look to know what they were burning; he’d experienced the acrid smell of burning books too many times recently. The mob was burning the holy texts of other cultures while pounding feverishly on their own Fundamentalist Christian Bibles. Albert shook his head in resignation and continued on his way to his small apartment through the virtually empty streets. He remembered when the streets had not been so empty. That was before the comet tore through the atmosphere and before the American people gave themselves over to the Grand Patriarchs who told them God had spared them.
Now the streets were lonely, almost as lonely as Albert was. Soon he’d be home, and he was dreading to see how his wife would react. The last time he’d gone to a book burning, she’d curled up on the floor and cried for twenty minutes. What would she do this time, he wondered. Her behavior had changed so much, but then so had everyone’s.
When he reached his apartment, Albert slowly unlocked the door, dreading what he’d find on the other side. As the door creaked open, Albert was surprised to find the apartment dark. Gingerly, he walked in and laid his keys on his desk. He’d expected dinner, like always, but there were no smells of cooking food, badly cooking food.
Albert crossed the apartment as quietly as possible. Adriana must have had yet another of her headaches and was probably sleeping. He didn’t want to wake her.
Opening the bedroom door, Albert was surprised to not find her in bed. With a shrug, he walked to the kitchen to start dinner. She hated him using her pots and pans, but he had to eat.
As he waited for his pot of water to begin boiling, Albert walked over to his desk to look through the mail. Glancing out the window, Albert saw a form in a long black coat walking the street below his window. The figure stopped and looked right up at Albert, who quickly got out of the window.
A yellow sticky note grabbed Albert’s attention. “Gone to the market,” it said. No love, Adriana, or anything, but that wasn’t a surprise. With a shrug, Albert walked back to the kitchen to finish preparing his spaghetti. He stopped short of the linoleum floor. Adriana never went out this close to dark. Why would she have?
A sudden horrifying thought overtook him. For the last few months, they’d been fighting constantly. Every day, Albert rallied against the Grand Patriarchs more, and Adriana fell more under their power. Could she have? No! Then Albert suddenly realized what her absence meant. He raced back to the window and saw a figure in black standing against the wall of the apartment building across the street, staring at the front door of his building.
Leaving all the lights on, Albert raced out his apartment door, heading for the back stairs. He only hoped he’d get out in time.
More than six hours passed before Albert stopped walking the streets and thought about what was going on around him. Adriana had finally given into the oppression he was sure of it. He’d always known she could be weak, but he’d never expected this. It would only be a matter of days before she was helping the Fundamentalists in their cause, a sort of modern day kapo. His only choice was to leave the city, and fast. Heading west seemed like his best option. The heavily populated East Coast would be just like Washington D.C., filled to the breaking point with Fundamentalists and their Hitlerian ways.
West it would be, but how? The trains were out; they’d be too heavily guarded. Just then, an armed soldier wearing a long gray wool coat approached him. He wore the polished gold cross that was the sign of the Guards of the Holy Order.
“Shit,” Albert mumbled under his breath.
The guard said something to him in Latin, something Albert didn’t understand. He’d learned the most common greetings as a survival mechanism, but the guard was using a greeting, if it was a greeting, that Albert was unfamiliar with. When Albert didn’t answer, the guard slowly began to pull his rifle from his shoulder.
Albert didn’t stop to think, couldn’t stop to think. He lunged for the guard with a force he never thought himself capable of. The guard tried to lurch away, but he couldn’t escape the desperate man’s grasp. Albert felt his fingers grab at the man’s throat, trying to reach into the guard’s larynx to pull it out.
The guard slammed the butt of his rifle into Albert’s stomach. Albert kneed the man in his thigh, not even noticing the pain in his stomach. Then he punched him in the throat. The guard staggered back, dragging Albert with him. Locking both hands around the guard’s throat, Albert began to squeeze with a strength he didn’t think he had. The guard punched at Albert, each blow from his fists growing weaker. Finally, with a desperate wheeze, the guard collapsed to the ground.
It was only once the guard was down that Albert thought of searching the streets for other people. There weren’t any, at least, not at that moment. Albert looked down at the guard and shivered. He wasn’t breathing. With a sad shrug, Albert pulled the guard into a nearby alley and began to strip him.
It was only ten minutes before Albert stepped out of the alley in his new outfit. The guard now safely ensconced in a dumpster under three day’s worth of trash. As Albert left the alley, he pulled the dead guard’s I.D. and holo chits from the long coat. He used the search mode on the small metal apparatus to find his new identity.
“Sgt. Aaron David May,” he said aloud, almost laughing. “Oh shit. He had to have changed his name.”
Albert continued to search through the holograms and wasn’t pleased to find a picture of a beautiful young woman with the dead guard in what was obviously a wedding hologram. The next holo sent Albert’s stomach into his throat. Lying in a crib were two babies, obviously twins, no older than three months. Albert shook his head. It was far too late for second thoughts.
Tossing the chits back into his pocket, Albert headed for the gates out of his sector of the city. He figured the guards in other sectors would be less likely to recognize him as not being Sgt. Aaron David May. He just hoped the guards at the gate wouldn’t know Sgt. May. If they did, Albert’s escape would be one of the shortest in history. The idea of being shot while standing before a barbed wire fence didn’t appeal to him. What good was a martyr if nobody knew he was dead?
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By J Alan Erwine
The Galton Principle
Lewis Goddard stared into his dresser mirror, pleased with what he saw. The dark gray, almost black, uniform fit him well, as it always did. The insignia of the black X on a light gray background that adorned his collar told of his special ranking among the Galton Youth, an organization of young men dedicated to maintaining the recently instituted genetics laws. He was proud to be a member, and he wanted everyone to know it. Lewis adjusted the red armband on his left upper arm. He wanted it to fit exactly as regulations required. The armband, which also bore the X insignia, was worn by all members of the Galton Youth. It told of their place in society.
Lewis pulled his holster from the bookcase, removing the revolver from the holster and stroking it. He smiled as he felt the cold iron grow warm under his touch. This was what made him powerful. Very few people in the New Society could wear guns. They were limited to the army, the Galton Youth, and the leaders. Lewis replaced the gun in the holster and put the belt on, feeling it wrap tightly around his waist like a long lost lover.
He looked down at his finely polished black boots and smiled again. He could see his reflection, even from six feet away. The boots were definitely shined according to regulations.
He left his room and walked to the spiral staircase that led to the first floor of his parents’ home, stopping at the top of the staircase where an old black and white framed poster hung. It was a man with very large sideburns dressed in early twentieth century garb. Lewis stared in reverence and then saluted the picture with great fervor.
“Our great father, Sir Francis Galton, thank you for your wisdom and guidance in saving the human race from what it could have become,” Lewis said with a reverence that would have been more appropriate in a church, if there had been any churches left. Lewis again adjusted his gunbelt and headed down the stairs and out the front door.
He’d heard that Washington D.C. hadn’t changed much in the last twenty years, at least not in its physical appearance. The great monuments had been maintained as examples of early American villainy. The only heroes left in the Society were those that had supported the eugenics movements in some way in the past, people like Sir Francis Galton, Lewis Terman, Adolf Hitler, and various twentieth century sociobiologists.
If the city hadn’t changed much in physical appearance, its society had definitely changed. As Lewis walked down the street, he dodged out of the way of hundreds of people wearing purple armbands. These were the genetically unfit. They were the people that were seen as being unsuitable for breeding. They were the sterilized. Lewis gave each of them a sneer, and if any came too close, he backed away, as if a bad genetic code could be transmitted like a virus.
Lewis picked his way through the crowd, trying not to be overwhelmed by his disgust, until he came to a building that had once housed the United States Supreme Court. A new name had been carved into the marble. It read “Genetic Court of the New Society.” Lewis climbed the steps of the building and walked through the front door, stepping through a scanner as he entered. The scanner chimed twice, calling a mechanical guard from a side passage. The guard immediately demanded Lewis’ gun.
“I’m a member of the Galton Youth. I give my gun to no one,” he said in his most authoritative voice, although his voice cracked as he said it.
“Identify yourself,” the robot commanded.
“Lewis Goddard, captain in the Galton Youth.” Lewis enjoyed saying he was a member of the Galton Youth. The power of the statement gave him an erection every time he uttered it.
“Will you agree to a retinal scan?” the robot asked in its droning mechanical voice.
“Of course,” Lewis said, bending down to look the robot in the eye.
“Identification verified,” the robot said, although it didn’t seem excited or bothered by the decision. “Proceed to Courtroom One, the vile criminals await you there.” The last was said with phony mechanical malice. Lewis wasn’t very impressed by the programmer’s work.
He walked to the courtroom, his heavy boots echoing off the walls like the pulse of some mighty monster. Two heavily armed guards saluted him as they opened the heavy oak doors of Courtroom One. An angry clamor burst through the opening doors. The courtroom was filled with people, all of whom turned to look at Lewis as he entered. For a moment, he felt fear as he saw the hatred in some of their eyes. Some part of his brain made sure to note the faces of those people for later retribution.
The prosecutor got up from his plush chair and walked back to greet Lewis. “Mr. Goddard, glad you could make it,” he said, offering his hand.
“I’m just doing my duty, sir,” he said as he noted the golden double X insignia on the man’s lapel, signifying his military rank.
“I’m General van Edwards,” the man said as he absently stroked the pencil-thin mustache above his thin pale lips. The man had a slightly stooped posture and a scar that ran a course from his left ear to his chin, reminding Lewis of the Mississippi River.
“Which battle did you fight in, sir?” Lewis asked.
“The Cleansing of the Cherokee,” the general responded with a smile. Lewis was familiar with the battle. It had been the bloodiest of all the Cleansings. Tens of thousands of Cherokee Indians that had been declared genetically inferior had been cleansed from the new nation during those glorious ten days, taking many of the “true people” with them.
“All rise,” a mechanical voice commanded from the ceiling. Lewis and General van Edwards walked forward to the prosecutor’s table. “This genetic trial is now in session. The Honorable Lord Justice Watt presiding.”
A tall, gaunt, skeleton of a man stepped through an opening panel behind the bench. The frail-looking man looked as though he was about to collapse under the weight of his scarlet robes and his pointed hat. “You may be seated,” he said in a voice that seemed to echo off the walls of the courtroom. It was a voice that seemed incongruous with the man’s emaciated face.
“Bring in the accused,” he said to a side wall which parted at his words. Two heavily armed and armored guards stepped through the opening, escorting a man and woman in shackles. The shackled people were thin from starvation torture and their faces were nothing more than a collection of swollen black and blue bruises. They tried to carry themselves with dignity, but the best they could manage was a shuffling gait. As they passed the prosecutor’s table they glared at Lewis with looks that would have frightened the Medusa. Lewis turned from their glare. The guards, who carried enough armament to stop a fleet of tanks, positioned the accused in front of the judge’s bench.
“You stand accused of one of the most heinous crimes against humanity,” the justice belowed at them with sincere anger. “You are accused of trying to procreate, even though you have been deemed unfit. You are also accused of failing to have yourselves sterilized. Bring up the witness!”
At this, Lewis stood up and sauntered up to the judge’s bench, adjusting his holster as he went. “I’m the witness, your Lord Honor. I’m Lewis Goddard, captain in the Galton Youth.”
The judge nodded at Lewis. “Present your evidence, Captain.”
“At one time, I called…the accused my best friends. Mr….I cannot utter his name, your Lord Honor, but the male accused came to me and told me that they had been making attempts at having a child. I had learned of their misfortune at being labeled genetically inferior, but I didn’t see this as a reason to terminate the friendship, only to reduce my involvement with them.” He hoped the judge wouldn’t question him on that point. He wasn’t sure how he could justify staying involved in these people’s lives. He felt like a hypocrite, but they’d been friends for years.
Lewis looked towards the judge, but didn’t look right at him. “He said he trusted me because we’d been friends for so long; so he told me of their plans. You have seen those plans, your Lord Honor, so I won’t bother repeating them. I then informed the leader of the Galton Youth, although I have to admit I was slightly reluctant. We invaded their home and found them attempting to procreate.” Lewis turned to his former friends and smiled with what he hoped was a sinister smile.
The judge glared at the accused with a horrified sneer. “This court finds the accused guilty. The penalty shall be mandatory sterilization, immediately. You will then be given the most extensive psychopharmacological treatment our scientists have designed. When it is deemed that you are chemically balanced and fit to return to society, you will be returned, but you will be returned separately and in areas away from the capital. This is this court’s ruling. We stand adjourned.” The judge then stood and walked through the opening panel behind his bench.
“But we love each other!” the woman screamed in a shrill voice that threatened to destroy everyone’s eardrums.
“This isn’t about love,” Lewis said. “This is about right and wrong and preserving society.”
The accused man started to leap for him. Lewis stepped back and drew his gun with lightning-fast reflexes, but one of the guards had already produced a stun rod and was jamming it into the man’s back. He fell limply to the ground.
“You’re fast on the draw,” a voice said from behind Lewis. He turned to face General van Edwards.
“I’m a member of the Galton Youth. We’re trained to be fast,” he said, adjusting his stance.