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.

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