Francis wrote a quick short story that bears some relation to my last bit of writing. It’s definitely worth a read. One line, which I won’t give away, is particularly amusing, and captures a fundamental flaw in the various Progressive protest movements that have popped up recently.
It’s fascinating to note the motivations of these protesters. One video I saw some months back was an interview with three vaguely gangster-esque black men. The interviewer asked them why they were attending the feminist Slut Walk event, where women come out dressed like strippers if, indeed, they even bother to wear clothing at all, and then rant and rave about how rape is a problem, and walking around mostly naked does not imply anything sexual. Certainly the trio of gang bangers looked rather out of place among the women with transparent thongs and nipple tape, with “proud slut” scrawled onto their breasts with sharpie pens.
The gangsters were emphatic and honest in their reply: “it’s easy to get laid here. Lots of loose chicks.”
It does make you wonder how many people just show up to these things to get some easy sex. The amount is not likely to be trivial, in this blogger’s opinion.
A Short Story
“That’s a fine automobile you got there.”
The voice startled John, and nearly caused him to drop his beer. The liquid sloshed around in his old plastic Solo cup, and a few droplets splashed on his shirt. He looked up to see a tall, white-haired man with the sort of rotund belly you just didn’t see often anymore, since the ration cuts had taken effect. The man smiled at John and offered him a shop towel to wipe his shirt with.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you like that,” the man offered. “I’m Lenny.” He nodded politely and gestured to the car.
“Oh, I’m John,” he stuttered, “and it’s uh… uh a Precedent 150. Same frame as the old Teslas.” He set his beer down and accepted the older man’s towel.
“You’ve kept her real nice,” Lenny replied, gesturing around them. “Better detailed than most here. Doesn’t look stock either.”
John beamed at the compliment. It had been a long time since someone had bothered to notice his old car. Certainly, the judges never did. He never came to the car show for trophies. In fact, he had trouble discerning just why he came at all, anymore.
“Well, thanks. I know it isn’t much these days, though.” John answered, pointing down the line to a newer Precedent 2500. The new electrics were smooth, graceful, and modern. Everything his old 150 wasn’t. But they were also much slower, since the new Speed Kills campaign had been pushed by the government. “Now that’s a nice car.” He said politely.
Lenny shook his head softly, but didn’t press the point, for which John was grateful. He sipped his flat beer, and stood awkwardly next to the older man for a few moments before curiosity got the best of him.
“So where’s your car?” John wondered aloud.
The older man smiled warmly. “She’s in the garage at home,” he answered. “I took the bus today. Same as every day, now.”
“That’s a shame.” John answered, politely ignoring the slip of gender objectification. You weren’t supposed to call things by female gender names, but it still happened sometimes with the elderly. “You just don’t see many cars here anymore. We were down to 48 last month.” He gestured to the otherwise empty mall parking lot around them. The mall itself was long gone, a monument to consumerism bulldozed by the new regime. Its gigantic parking lot remained.
“Not like you used to,” Lenny agreed. “I was coming here way back when they still had petrol-burners. Easy 200 cars in those days. On a bad day.”
“No petrol in my car,” John said. “Just a pair of old Tesla motors swapped in, one front and one rear, rewound, sync’d and balanced. It’d do 170, maybe, if BuTrans didn’t put the limiter on it.” He boasted a little, excited to see someone interested in the car he’d spent years putting together from old junkyard parts.
“Yeah, bummer about that.” Lenny said. “They started doing that to the petrol-burners too, back near the end. It was a real drag.”
Another awkward moment passed, for John didn’t know what else to say. He had never been very social at the show, but came anyway out of some deep-seated need he didn’t entirely understand. Few people bothered to talk to him, as most of the attention was centered on Suzie and xer new Precedent 2500. Xe was always the star of the show, but today the crowd was interested in xer new pink carbon-fiber hood scoop. That electric cars didn’t need real hood scoops appeared to be lost on everyone.
He had saved for nearly a decade to buy his Precedent 150. It had no motor when he found it sitting in the junk yard, so he refitted it with a pair of old salvaged Tesla motors. The paint was original, of course, since he had no climate offsets for a new job, but he had spent long hours cleaning it carefully, restoring the shine as much as he could. There were faded spots, and some scratches, but it was still good. The tires, on the other hand, were brand new and had cost a fortune, but they were beautiful and gripped the road perfectly.
“Sim race time in 3 minutes,” the announcer’s voice came over the loud speakers. “If your sim info isn’t entered in the next minute, you will be disqualified.” Most of the attendees were furiously tapping on their phones, entering in the needed data. John merely leaned back, having entered his specs several hours before. It didn’t matter, though. He never won.
“I remember when Raceway Park was still open,” Lenny mused beside him. “Those were the days.”
John was wide-eyed, suddenly forgetting about the announcer and his preordained computer race. “You actually raced? Like, for real?”
“Yeah. Drag and track both. It’s a rush like you wouldn’t believe.” The older man’s eyes took on a distant look, “the smell of fuel and tire smoke, it was something else. God, it was like flying a jet engine down the strip back then. Nirvana, man. Petrol car heaven.”
The religious terms made John shuffle uncomfortably for a moment, but his awe outweighed his wrongthink. There was excitement in the pit of his stomach. He had never talked to a real racer before. He even forgot to check his age privilege. “How old are you?”
Lenny laughed. “No one’s asked me that in years…”
“I didn’t mean to uh…”
“Don’t worry about it, kid. I’m 76 as of yesterday.”
“You really did it then…” It had been almost 50 years since racing had been outlawed. Most person-driven cars had followed suit, with only a few government-built electric Precedent cars still remaining road-legal. Everything else was self-driving which, besides being hideously expensive, was also profoundly boring to John’s sensibilities. There were no car shows for self-driving cars.
Lenny continued, his voice distant, reliving old memories. “Yeah. I used to have this old Hellcat, full nitrous job, and let me tell you kid… she was a rocket ship. Take you to orbit on a cloud of tire smoke, take you to the moon and back again, squealing all the way. Lenny tells no lies, kid.”
Something in the old man’s bearing made John believe it.
Another club member shouted in the distance. “The race is starting!” John stayed put while the crowd moved toward the show booth.
Lenny frowned. “Never got this simulated stuff. No adrenaline. No nothing. You could do this from your couch, and nobody would know the difference.”
John nodded in agreement. “And it’s not like it’s real anyway. They say enter your specs, but nobody reads them. I don’t think the computer even cares.”
“So it’s random?” Lenny asked.
“No. When you enter your name, you know… it pulls up your file and…”
“Ah,” Lenny nodded in understanding. “If your points are low, it’s no good.”
“Yeah.” John agreed. “But that’s okay. Not like anyone else built their own car up around here. It was fun. I love it anyway.” He smiled a moment, wondering what it would be like to really race.
Cheering interrupted his thoughts, as Suzie was lifted up by a crowd of adoring fans, having won the sim computer race by a lap against xer strongest opponent, an obese lesbian from the new projects. That, John wrongthinked, was probably a good thing for the crowd. Lifting up Monique would have been considerably more difficult for them.
“Wish I could have raced my car back on the old track,” John said, “take the limiter off, and it’d go. These old Tesla motors are much stronger than new Precedent units. They don’t make them like that anymore.”
“I’m a petrol-head at heart, kid. But you know, toward the end we had a few like you. Some overpowered electric hot rods. Fat motors, high cap battery packs. We never did get to settle the question of gas or electric for good before the bureau shut us down.” Lenny looked out in the distance, as the evening bus settled in at the stop outside the show. “Time to go. You take care of yourself, John.”
A few months passed before John saw the old man again. Every show was the same, with Suzie and Monique vying for privilege dominance, and most of the crowd ignoring him. Sometimes a group would come and laugh at him as he wiped his car down, talking about how unoriginal and plain it was, how the paint was faded and covered in scratches.
He would bring his old solo cup, and buy his allocated single ration of warm beer, and spend his time leaning on the hood of his ‘150 wishing he could have seen the old days, when cars burned streaks of rubber down the cracked asphalt, where engines roared, and helmet-clad racers flicked their visors down and sped off into the sunset.
They were only stories to him, even the movies about them had long since been banned. But the old man had awoken something in him, and each day he longed to see Lenny return.
“What kind of car is that? A 150 huh? Bet you think it’s fast?” A voice asked, snapping him out of his reverie. He turned to see Suzie, xer grin hateful and jealous. The computer could say that xer 2500 was faster than a 150 with Tesla parts, but deep down, xe had to know.
“It’s nothing,” John sighed. “Just a beater made of some old junkyard parts.”
“Yeah?” Monique added, setting her beer down on the car’s hood. John tried not to grimace, but evidently failed. “What, you don’t want me touching your car? A stupid racist like you can’t handle it huh?” She dragged her fake fingernail across the polished surface, digging into the clearcoat, leaving a fresh scratch along the fender. Mercifully, she declined to sit on it.
“Looks better now,” Suzie laughed. “It just needed a woman’s touch. See you around, loser.”
John controlled his anger, trying as hard as he could to smile and act pleasantly toward the show’s stars. He didn’t enter the race anymore, and parked further away from the other drivers. His only motivation to keep coming was the thought that the old man might come back.
“You look like Mad Max right now, kid.” Lenny said from behind him. John nearly jumped up and spilled his beer again. The old man evidently enjoyed doing that.
“Old movie, a whole lot of wrongthink.” Lenny said. “In the old days, if someone even looked at your car wrong, you could deck ’em in the face. You don’t touch no one’s car, let me tell you.”
“It’s okay. I didn’t check my racism, it was my fault.”
“You know why I came here, really?” Lenny changed the subject. John shook his head. “I’m not just old, I’ve got cancer. And you know the way it goes, if you don’t have the points…”
“Yeah.” John felt a pang of regret. He genuinely liked the old man. “I know how it goes. How long?”
“Few months. Maybe less.” Lenny said. “It’s okay, kid. My time, you know? I just wanted to come back, see if there were any real gearheads left anymore. Guess there’s still one.”
“Oh, I’m not…”
“Shut up, kid. You got the bug. I seen your eyes light up, you would have been there in the old days, and we both know that. Tell you what, next month I’ll bring my car. We can have our own race.”
John’s eyes lit up. “You have your own sim?”
“Well… yeah. I got one.”
The rest of the show went as expected, only this time there was an upset. Monique had revealed that she had a Mexican great grandfather, and her privilege points had passed up Suzie’s for the first time. It had been a very close race, but Monique’s Precedent 2200 passed Suzie’s 2500 on the final simulated lap. John ducked into his car before the crowd could enlist his aid in carrying her on their shoulders.
When he emerged from the care, when it was finally safe, the old man was gone again.
The next month passed by slowly as John’s anticipation built up. A private race! He had never been able to do one, always having to accept last place in the show’s event. It was unprecedented.
When he arrived at the old parking lot, and took his usual space at the end, Lenny was waiting for him. But there was no car to be seen.
“Where’s your car?” John asked him, puzzled.
“Oh, it’s around back. But before we set the race up, I need to do a few things.” Lenny told him. He brought out a small computer and an OBD connector. “This will read the specs directly from your car’s ECU.”
John stepped aside and let Lenny do his thing, watching as he connected the old tuner to his car. “All good.” Lenny reported. “I also took your limiter off for this race.”
“Really? A no-limiter computer race?” Nobody had ever done that at the show. The announcer was already talking up the upcoming challenge between Monique, Suzie, and a newcomer who was an Indigenous American Muslim transsexual. It was expected to be a close race between them all. John didn’t care in the slightest.
“I’ll be right back,” Lenny winked at him and disappeared behind the abandoned mall.
The sound that followed was like nothing John had ever heard in his life. A roar echoed across the parking lot, like a demon crawling up from the depths of the now-forbidden Hell. Beers were spilled, people screamed as they were triggered by the raucous noise. Some dove into their cars for protection, others curled into fetal positions. John instinctively knew what had happened, what he was going to see before it came around the corner.
An ancient Dodge Challenger Hellcat roared to life, its fat tires kicking up a cloud of smoke, squealing against the cracked blacktop. The old man bounced it off the rev limiter as the crowd scattered and screamed. John was in a dream, and he found his wrongthink could not be restrained. He opened the door to his car and got in. The windows were down, and he could smell the oil-mixed gasoline in the air, the tang of fuel and smoking tire in his nostrils, just as Lenny had said.
And when his Tesla-powered Precedent flared to life, he felt the driveline spin like nothing he’d ever experienced before. All of the torque from the ancient electric motors was there, at his command, no limits, no restrictions, all pushed aside by Lenny’s tuner. As he pressed the pedal, the car lurched forward like the very rocket ship the old man had described. He pulled up next to the ancient petrol-burner, even as the crowd poked their heads out to try and make sense of it all.
Lenny looked at him, and grinned through the haze, gunning the motor. “On three, kid.” He yelled, barely audible over the burble of the ancient V8.
“On three,” John answered, still wondering when he was going to wake up from the dream.
He heard the Hellcat’s motor rev up, he held the brakes down on his own car, loading the motors. He could hear the groan as car sunk lower to the road than he’d ever felt. There was no noise, like with the ancient petrol-burner, but he felt that power at his command. He knew he would have to be careful with the launch, with so much torque. But maybe the all wheel drive would help. The old movies said so, anyway.
“One.” He heard the old man’s voice, barely audible over the roar.
“Two.” He shifted his foot to the edge of the brake pedal, ready to let all four wheels fly.
The Hellcat roared, tires spinning as they sought for grip. The old 150, all four wheels loaded with torque, shot out ahead. John’s car was past 45 before he could even blink, smoothly accelerating at blinding speed. Some part of John’s brain remembered to flick the windows closed.
The Hellcat was behind, its tires finally gripping the worn pavement, the smoke everywhere, and John could see it catching up in his side mirror. The roar was deafening, the ground shaking. The electric motors whined, spinning faster than they had in decades, strained to the breaking point.
Onward the Hellcat came, breaking even with the old electric, and finally inching out ahead. John didn’t let up, even as he watched the needle move. 130. 140. 150….
It kept going, and the petrol-burner pushed out to a wider lead. Alarms started lighting up on John’s dashboard as the motors began gave in to the strain and the batteries drained under intense load, but he couldn’t let up, not now. 160… 170… The wind rushed all around now, as they flew down the ancient mall parking lot.
The Tesla-powered Precedent had nothing else left to give as she leveled at out 174. And yet everything was smooth, like flying through the clouds, and John enjoyed it for a moment, even as the Hellcat pulled ahead to a final lead. The brake lights blinked, and he slowed down rapidly, the air resistance quickly dropping his speed.
But even as they slowed to a less reckless speed, the Hellcat’s brake lights switched off again, and the engine roared. John saw the Hellcat’s window roll down, and Lenny stick his arm out, giving him a hearty thumbs up, before speeding off suddenly from the mall parking lot. He felt a rush of pride well up within him, it had been the best race of his life, nothing like the sims could ever give, better than his imagination could fathom. And his own build had hung on strong with a demon-spawned race car dredged up from the forbidden depths of petrol Hell.
John slowed down, driving past the assembled cars, to the fascinated stares of the other car clubbers. Police sirens could be heard in the distance, but he paid them no mind. For that glorious moment, he was a racer of old, and nothing else mattered. He knew he would pay for it all later, but for now, he didn’t care. He peeled out of the parking lot, his 150 freed of the limiter, outdistancing the slow police cars like they were nothings. The others would tell them who had done it, of course, but he would have time to sort things out.
His eyes followed where the Hellcat had gone, the burnt rubber on the cracked pavement a testament to the ancient beast he had witnessed. But of the car, he could see no trace.
He never saw the old man again.
In light of the possible discovery of oil on Titan, I offer this short:
The lander shuddered in the turbulence of Titan’s atmosphere. The Mission Commander, a half-invented title the Company had given one John Wilkins, space redneck, cursed under his breath.
“Jesus, landing this thing is like trying to find Rosie O’Donnell’s junk in a snowstorm.
“Fucking pigs,” Sandra, the team’s botanist muttered under her breath, barely audible over the din of the lander’s reentry.
Carlos quickly understood the Commander’s gross metaphorical allusions more completely. The rockets fired and the lander bucked like a bronco in the ring. He tried not to think about the possibility that their damn-fool Mission Commander was going to get them all killed.
Instead he tried to drown out his fears, pondering the nature of the oil deposits on Titan. Earth had been running low on the sludge for decades, perhaps centuries. Nobody had figured out how to get the oil off Titan, supposing it actually existed, but “top minds” had been paid far more than his meager salary to solve that particular problem.
Carlos just had to confirm its viability, bring back samples, and make recommendations as to extraction methods.
Still, he was a roughneck, not a fucking astronaut, he thought to himself as the lander settled down.
“You can pick your balls back up out of your seat, Carlos.” The Commander seemed relieved, somehow. Carlos tried not to think about what that meant.
“You want the honors, amigo?” The Commander snapped on his helmet and pointed to the airlock. “Just think, Border Patrol’ll never find you here.”
“Fuck you, John. I’m legal, bitch. Even got a real trailer in the park, just like all you gringos. Bud light, John Cooper Mellencamp and everything.”
They laughed, and Sandra just crossed her arms in annoyance. The diversity quotas needed filling, and she wanted to be the first woman beyond Jupiter. Nobody expected to find plants on Titan. The Company just figured they were lucky to find one Carlos Rivera on their Gulf rigs. So only one extra body was needed.
Being the first man to step foot on the moon was an honor. Being the first Hispanic roughneck on Titan meant something less than nothing to the folks back home, still debating on whether or not dragonkind counted as otherkin for the purposes of the Animal Soul Equality Bill mucking around Congress.
Carlos silently opened the airlock and trudged down in Titan’s lower gravity. For a moon out on the ass end of the Solar System, it sure looked vaguely Earth-like. He knew that was a lie, of course. The freezing temperatures would kill him faster than he could suffocate if he took his helmet off. And the “land” was really just a bunch of ice floating over a liquid surface.
But still, it was better than sitting in the lander all day with Sandra.
Unsure of where to start, he just decided to walk a little ways away from the lander and get the lay of the land. Control said this was a good place to start the hunt for oil, and Control generally knew what it was talking about.
“Carlos,” John echoed in his ear piece, “I’m picking up motion ahead, coming right toward your position, 12 o’clock.”
Carlos felt a shiver travel down his spine. Motion? On Titan? The last probe had failed a decade before. It couldn’t be one of them. He squinted, and barely made out what look like three human figures trudging toward the lander.
It was clearly apparent that they wore no helmets or suits. Which meant that…
“…fucking aliens.” He muttered.
“Come again? Didn’t receive your last.”
“I said fucking ALIENS. They aren’t wearing suits!” He was a roughneck, not a linguist, or a biologist. In fact, the whole crew was completely unqualified for this. A pilot with a bad sense of humor, a useless botanist from Berkeley and a Hispanic roughneck. What a First Contact crew that was.
John’s reply didn’t even make sense, and sounded even more consternated than he felt.
The first alien was upon him, looking nothing if not human. There were differences, of course. The skin was a strange shade of blue that almost glowed in the low light conditions on Titan. But aside from that, he could have almost been a man.
“Uh… hola senor?” Carlos reverted to his natural Spanish. “Como estas?”
The alien regarded him a moment before greeting him in turn.
“Allahu Ackbar.” The Alien shouted, then looked back down on him. “Mohammadun Rasulu Allah!” He lifted what looked suspiciously like a weapon. “We learn your religion, human-kaffir. Language. Allahu Ackbar!”
“Fuck.” It was the only thing Carlos could think of. Of course it figured. Even on the moon of Saturn, the nearest oil supply to an oil-starved Earth, there were Space Muslims. “Guess that’s the end of my astronaut career.”
Earth loomed in the viewport of the Acheron as the massive vessel settled into orbit. Flight Commander Jon Buchanan felt maudlin, for the planet represented the end of his journey, and at his age he was unlikely to command another expedition. Yet the emotion was mixed with an insatiable curiosity, for centuries had passed down on Earth.
I’ll miss the stars, he thought as he settled into the pilot’s chair on the ship’s lander, but who knows how far we’ve advanced in six centuries.
“I wonder what we’ll find? How far mankind has advanced since we left?” He wondered aloud. His copilot, Lieutenant Paul Cardo, sighed heavily, for this conversation had taken place many times before.
“Yes, yes, Jon,” Paul began informally, exhausted of the military courtesies nominally due to his superior. “Maybe they’ve cured the common cold since we left, and perhaps pigs have been bioengineered to fly. They’re more likely to have killed themselves off. Too bad the high res cameras are busted, or I’m sure I’d be winning my wager already.”
Cynical bastard. Three years with this guy in tow is enough to piss off anybody. Lieutenant Paul Cardo, cynic of cynics, king of pessimists.
“Aren’t you the least bit curious, Lieutenant? It’s been almost six hundred years down there.” Jon tapped the keyboard, preparing the spacecraft’s lander for reentry. From orbit, Earth looked much the same, possessing the same familiar landmasses and oceans, and the usual preponderance of orbital junk floating around about it.
I guess I hoped for more, I mean, you’d think we’d have ships all over the system by now.
Paul smiled wryly and lay back in his chair, loosening the straps slightly. “Honestly, I was more impressed with the Bellatrix system. Three habitable planets, can you believe it? If NASA is still around, I’m signing up for the colonization fleet. The plant and animal life we seeded there should have spread around nicely by the time we get back. Earth can go to Hell for all I care.”
“Any hails from below?” Doctor Mary Christine, the medical officer aboard Acheron, drifted through the air toward them. She watched over the pair like a mother hen, albeit one that had to fend off occasional advances from both men. The imbalance between men and women on Acheron had made things interesting, to say the least.
More frigid than the Arctic. Not that I didn’t try to warm her up…
Jon frowned a moment, checking the communications display. “Still nothing. No radio traffic. But it’s possible they aren’t even looking. We’re pretty late, after all. Who knows if they even use radio anymore.” One of the lines to the primary fuel tanks had been cut, slowing their return trip by nearly fifty years and making almost thirty percent of their fuel completely inaccessible. But, better late than never, the Commander thought.
“Fifty years is beyond late, sir.” Paul answered cynically. “When you show up fifteen minutes late to your interview, that’s late. We’re raised from the fucking dead, a bigger feat than Christ bringing back Lazarus, I think.”
Mary tilted her head and reached for a hand hold, stabilizing herself before strapping herself into her seat. “Well, you’d think somebody would be answering, somewhere. I mean, the Russians sure were twitchy when we left. They should be yelling at us on general principle.”
Paul cracked a sardonic smile, his first in a while. “The Russians would blow a space pebble out of the sky with nukes if it so much as drifted over their country.”
“Like I said, twitchy.” Mary laughed, adjusting the straps. “Anyway, I’m ready over here. We going down?”
Jon took a final, wistful look at his homeworld, probably the last time he would ever see it from space. “Prepare for deorbit burn…”
Reentry was uneventful, as far as such things go. The lander leveled off, finally, having come through the return trip in remarkably good condition. Jon worked the flight controls while Paul searched for a suitable landing site. The Acheron lander was a spaceplane, and maintained enough of a fuel reserve for a period of atmospheric flight.
Paul nearly had to yell over the roar of the engines. “Still not getting anything. Air traffic control should exist, right? You’d think, anyway. Radio traffic is negative. Mojave salt flats look to be our best bet.”
Mary muttered just barely loud enough to hear. “A desert hike to civilization. Wonderful.”
“There’s a built up area near Mojave itself. Looks pretty densely settled,” Paul added. “Sending the coordinates to your console now, sir.”
“Acknowledged.” Jon said simply, concentrating on the lander’s flight path. It may have been a spaceplane, he reflected, but it flew like a brick attached to a rocket engine. “We’re coming in pretty hot, I want to keep some fuel reserves in case we need to take off again.”
At the rate of speed necessary to keep the lander in the air, it was difficult to make out the details of the settlement below through the cockpit window, but it still appeared simple and rundown, somehow. He flipped off the main engines and glided over the flats.
“Here we go. Hold on tight.” Jon warned. “Skids down and coming in.”
The lander had seen use in the Bellatrix system, and was designed for rough landings on unprepared surfaces. Still, Jon winced slightly as the craft made contact with the salt flats, skidding to a halt over the desert flats.
“Earth. What a dump.” Paul mused as whine from the engines died down. “I’d rather be in orbit.”
Mary unstrapped herself from her seat and smiled warmly. “Oh come now, Paul. It can’t be that bad.”
“Better knock on wood.” Paul answered, pointing out the window. “We’ve got a welcoming committee, and they don’t look like NASA folks.”
Jon looked up from his post-flight checklist and frowned. Dust clouds stirred up around the craft as a group of men, armed from the looks of it, approached the lander on horseback.
I feel like I’ve seen this movie before. At least they aren’t apes in a Charleton Heston flick.
Paul cursed. “Fuckers are fast. They must have figured we’d land here when they saw us circling.” The Lieutenant reached for the arms locker. With a six hundred year trip to a totally different system, NASA had seen fit to give them that luxury, at least. “You want the Glock or the Sig, sir.”
“Sig. You know that.” Jon answered dismissively.
“Suit yourself, barbarian.” Paul answered, fastening the holster to his belt. “Mary?”
“I’m fine, thanks.” The doctor shook her head. “I’d do more harm than good, I’m afraid.”
“Well, sir, shall we go see what they want?”
Jon nodded his assent and opened the hatch. The sweltering desert heat assaulted him almost immediately, and his hand moved automatically to shelter his eyes. The worlds of Bellatrix had been cool, temperate places, and he had almost forgotten how extreme the Mojave heat could be.
It didn’t take long for the horsemen to reach the lander. Their leader was a hardy man. He had the look of someone who had spent his life in the desert, with tanned, leathery skin stretched across a frame bordering on malnutrition. The turban wrapped around his head was covered in dust and sweat. Certainly, whatever Jon had expected of the future Earth, this hadn’t been it.
“Peace be upon you, my friend.” The leader said in strangely accented English, making a sign with his hands. “Do you come from the Caliph in your aero-plane?” The man was relaxed, sporting a genuine-looking smile, but his cohorts looked fastidious enough with their large rifles only slightly downturned.
“Um… we come from NASA. Hold on a moment.” Jon replied. Some instinct overwhelmed him in that moment, and he turned, waving Mary back before she could approach the hatch. His voice was barely audible. “Doctor, stay in the ship. Lieutenant, you’re with me. And keep your fool mouth shut, for the love of God.”
“Yes, sir.” Paul answered, his face serious as he exited the hatch, his face briefly registering surprise. “I see your point.”
Jon turned to the leader of the horsemen again. “Do you know of NASA?”
The horseman rubbed his beard thoughtfully for a moment, his smile fading into a frown. “This is not familiar to me. Is that an agency of the government?” The stress on the word “government” was strange, and held a sort of religious awe.
“Yes, it is. Can we speak to your local representative?” Jon offered.
“You mean the emir’s sheriff?” The leader offered, pointing to the golden badge on his breast. That, at least, appeared familiar. “I am he. How can I serve the Caliph?”
The Commander felt the knife’s edge he was perched upon and knew he had to choose his words carefully. “How did you know we were from the government?”
The horseman’s face brightened visibly. “Oh, I am a learned man. I have studied the ancient texts and I know that only the Caliph’s men could afford the extravagance of a real aero-plane. You know, some of the others, they said that you were djinn, because only they could fly. They are fools who cannot read. But I knew! The Caliph’s men have powers, for Allah has blessed them. And to think the others did not believe!”
Thank God for my religious history class, I’m going to be needing it now.
“You are very wise. What is your name, sheriff?”
“I am called Ahmed, sirs. Ahmed Johnsen.”
Paul muttered under his breath, barely audible to the Commander. “Fuck. Would have been better to blow the planet up.”
To be continued…
First piece of a little short story.
The Lead Scientist was not what John had expected. He had heard the descriptions, of course, but she was beyond his experience. Her Labcoat was of the finest Chinese silk, dyed in fantastically bright colors. Locks of bright pink hair shimmered, trimmed with silver combs and sparkling gemstones. Her glasses were large and black-rimmed, accented with diamonds. She was beautiful and clean, and John felt himself withering under her impassive gaze.
Burly guards filed in behind her, ringing the ancient sub-urban farmhouse. They clicked to attention, battle rifles of polished chrome clutched to their chests. John fell to one knee.
“Your Grace,” he began, “we are humbled by your visit.”
“You are the mayor of this hovel?” She regarded her fingernails a moment, pondering the silver trimming, a look of mild disdain crossing her gorgeous features.
“I am, your Grace.” He answered simply, adjusting his shirt, trying to hide the frayed stitching on the sides. The village hadn’t been visited by a Lead Scientist since the burnings of his youth, and even then they had been different, somehow.
“It has come to the attention of the University that there are some Deniers here. I have come to address these rumors personally.” She began. “Now, rise and walk with me.”
John stood up slowly, cognizant of the alert guardians behind the Scientist. They were known to be touchy, especially in the poorer villages. It wouldn’t do to alarm them. Slowly, he patted the dirt from his worn jeans and fell into line behind her.
She carried a walking staff, topped with a golden atom, the symbol of her high office with the University, and trudged it along carefully, avoiding the patches of mud and potholes in the asphalt roadway.
“Tell me of the Deniers.” She said, simply, her voice silky and almost musical. Yet an edge tainted her words, an unspoken threat hovering in her tone.
“I don’t know of any myself,” he began, waving his hands slightly at her upraised eyebrow. “But as you say, there are rumors.”
“And they are?”
“Well, your Grace, as you know, there used to be a church here, one of the last ones, in fact. It took us some time to root it out, but they burned it down back when I was a kid. Firing squad got the folk.” John tried not to look at the guards marching behind them as they walked. “But there was some thought that maybe we didn’t get all of ’em. You know, stories told in hushed whisper. Rumor has it lately that someone saw someone else making the cross sign.”
The Scientist stopped, her face grim. “Who?”
“Well, that’s just it. Nobody has any names. They all just say ‘someone’ did it. Personally, I bet one of the kids made it up, you know, try to scare…”
The Scientist frowned and John stopped mid-sentence. Her face hardened, and he saw anger bubbling up to the surface. Scientists were always looking for new Deniers and they were not particularly concerned if a few innocents happened to get in the way. The Preservation of the Earth stood above all that.
“This is no rumor, mayor. Or did you think I would stop in this filthy cesspit because I felt like taking a little stroll?” The anger subsided and she visibly calmed. She reached into her Labcoat and removed a tiny wooden cross with a barely-discernible figure carved into it. “This was found by one of our agents in the sub-urban zone.”
John recoiled automatically. The symbol of the Deniers was foul corruption just to behold. He fell into the mantra immediately.
“It is to science and reason alone that I devote my life. There is no life but that of the present, only in the dust of the Earth are we immortal. From flesh to soil and soil to plant, the cycle of life goes on. We are guardians, preserving the spirit of Earth so that…”
“Enough of that, mayor. Now, tell me who you suspect.” Her eyes, sparkling blue and full of beauty nonetheless held the power of life and death over him. “You must know of someone who is, perhaps, less dutiful to the Plan? Maybe they have taken the harsh winter as a sign that the sins of the past have not warmed the Earth?”
Shudders traveled up his spine, but he held still a moment, pondering his choices. He was in his fiftieth year and in the modern world that was positively ancient. His life had been hard, spent scrabbling in the fields and repairing broken machinery that, by law, could never be replaced. But it had been a good life, too. There was something to be said for living in the free villages of the sub-urban zone, circling the ancient University towers of the inner city.
It would be a life that would soon end anyway, regardless of what he told the Scientist. And she would kill him if he didn’t tell her what she wanted to hear, that much was, as they said in the city, a mathematical certainty.
“Well, mayor?” Her voice was impetuous. Scientists were not accustomed to waiting for anything.
Three ideas for a Space Opera novel, written up as summaries. Which, if any, intrigue you?
The Artaxian Empire had long been in decline, its outer provinces left to their own devices as Imperial authority waned across the galactic east. The governors of Lythia, the most prosperous of the outer provinces, fortified their domain and built a viable kingdom from the wreckage left by the Artaxians, turning their backs on the Imperial administration.
That is, until a brutally savaged Imperial courier arrived bearing terrifying news of a new invader, one that frightened even the Artaxian Emperor himself. Now the young scion of the House of Lythia must embark on a journey through the dying Empire, uniting factions of breakaway provinces, kingdoms, and barbarian pirates in an effort to turn back an enemy bent not on conquest, but on extermination.
As humanity traveled across the stars, spearheaded by merchant princes and adventurous traders, it was soon discovered that humans had been there before. Wreckage of great human civilizations was discovered on planet after planet, scarred terribly and scoured of all life in impossibly ancient conflicts.
Now, the fractious lot of interstellar traders, each vying for market supremacy, must band together to discover the identity of the ancient attackers and devise a defense against them. For already, distant comm stations have recorded desperate distress calls from the frontier.
The enemy has returned.
In the final years of the 21st century, mankind had finally unlocked the secret of faster-than-light travel, using a system of gates to open transit corridors across space-time. Robotic vessels crossed the depths of space to promising new planets, installing gates accessible from Earth.
Despite EarthGov’s insistence that the technology was perfectly safe, Chester Mansfield had never been comfortable with corridor travel. It was like an ancient telephone line, in that you never knew who else might be listening. Many had insisted he was a crank, a paranoid conspiracy theorist.
And then the first alien ships began pouring out of the Earth gate.