Last month we reported that Black Gate author Vaughn Heppner had cracked the bestseller list at Amazon with Star Soldier, Book #1 of the Doom Star Series.
Star Soldier and its sequels, Bio-Weapon and Battle Pod, now occupy the top three spots at Amazon’s bestseller list for Series Science Fiction in Kindle ebooks, — outselling Dune, Foundation, and many others.
In the general Science Fiction Bestsellers list for Kindle editions, Star Soldier remains solidly at #2, where it’s been for nearly two months.
Star Soldier is a full 82,000 word novel, available for download at Amazon.com for just 99 cents.
We’re very proud to offer you an exclusive preview of the first 5,000 words of Star Soldier, an action-packed space opera of the invasion of Earth in 2350, Doom Star pirates, and genetically designed super soldiers caught in a brutal war of extinction.
This is a Special Presentation of a work of fiction. It appears with the permission of Vaughn Heppner, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part. All rights reserved. Copyright 2010 by the author.
by Vaughn Heppner
7 AUGUST 2346 A.D.
Father and son floated swiftly, silently, with purpose, through a seldom-used maintenance shaft. They refused to sell their souls to Social Unity. Three years of hiding like rats proved that and culminated tonight. They had just placed thirty-six bombs onto the space habitat’s outer skin and had eleven minutes to go.
Father and son looked nothing alike. Marten Kluge was nineteen, lean and had a blond-haired, handsome face like his mother. He cradled a stubby tangler against his vacc suit and had a high-tech kit on his belt. The old man, Ben Kluge, was massive and hard-eyed, with a needler attached to his silver suit. In the last half hour, he’d killed four men, two with his hands. No one had heard or missed the men so far. The Sun Works Factory circling Mercury was vast beyond any space habitat in the Solar System. The corpses were left to float in dark shafts. Father and son now donned helmets, activated oxygen tanks and opened a hatch for the next phase of the operation.
Mercury spread below, a dead planet buzzing with activity. In appearance, it looked remarkably similar to the Earth’s Moon, pockmarked with craters and having almost no atmosphere. On the dayside, a sodium potassium vapor existed, but it was less than negligible. Only forty percent larger than the Moon, Mercury had a much higher percentage of metals. Those ores, unbelievable lodes of fissionables such as uranium, thorium and more basic metals like iron and copper, were catapulted off-world, caught by space tugs and fed into the Sun Work’s reactors and smelting furnaces. Like Saturn’s rings, the tubular-shaped, world-spanning Sun Works Factory circled the entire planet of Mercury.
Mere specks against the gargantuan space station, father and son pushed off the inner ring. Because Old Sol blazed so nearby they were forced to remain in the station’s shadows—it was either that or commit quick suicide by sunshine. Mercury was at perihelion, its farthest orbital position from the Sun: 70 million kilometers. At aphelion, a mere 46 million kilometers, the Sun’s radiation would have been 2.3 times as intense. Space walking, even in the station’s shadows, would be impossible then.
As they floated high above Mercury, Marten clicked his comm-unit. It emitted a powerful, code-scrambled pulse—the Sun’s harsh electromagnetic waves demanded such strength. The pulse sped several kilometers before it was caught and de-coded by his mother’s bio-computer. The biocomp immediately released a virus into the Sun Work’s tracking systems. Nineteen seconds later a beep sounded in Marten’s ear. He gave a thumbs-up signal to his father. They ignited thruster-packs.
Three years ago, station security — Political Harmony Corps — had brutally suppressed the unionization attempt of the engineers. Social Unity, it was said, provided for all, was all; the State and its people were one, thus unionization was an absurdity, a non-sequitur. Thus, the strike had been dispersed: a word that failed to convey the savage fighting, the interrogations and the police murders of the ringleaders and their lieutenants. A few Unionists had slipped into hiding among the millions of kilometers of passageways and maintenance corridors. Most of those had been caught and killed, after some agonizing torture. Marten, his father and mother, with several others, had kept one step ahead of the hunters and built an ultra-stealth pod in an abandoned, high radiation area. The long-range goal was to slip away from the Inner Planets and to the Jupiter Confederation or anywhere beyond the reach of the Social Unity fanatics.
Father and son shut off their thruster-packs, rotated ninety degrees and let the packs glow once more. Gently, they landed on the inner ring, on the Mercury-facing-side of the space habitat, kilometers from where they’d jumped. Unlatching the packs, they attached them with magnetic clamps to the nearby hatch. Ben Kluge faced his son, hard, dark eyes peering through his Plexiglas helmet. He put a hand on his son’s shoulder, squeezed. Marten nodded. His mouth was so dry that he didn’t dare try talking. He turned to the hatch and punched in the entry sequence — between them, he had the better memory. A puff of air escaped the opening hatch. Seconds later, they floated into the compression chamber. Marten’s heart hammered. He readied his tangler, licked his lips and checked his chronometer: two minutes to detonation.
Marten twitched, and berated himself for his fear.
His father flipped off his helmet, letting it hang against his broad back as he scratched his crewcut silver hair. He drew his needler, a wicked little gun of black plastic that seemed to disappear in his hand. He opened the inner hatch and floated into a utility corridor.
Following, Marten kept on his helmet. The corridor was uniformly gray, with float rails on the walls. They pulled themselves along, traveling fast to a bank of elevators, choosing the third from the left.
“Which floor?” said his father.
Marten checked his HUD (Heads Up Display) that played on his inner visor. “Fifteenth,” he whispered.
His father punched that in, the door closed and they rode the elevator in silence, the orange numbers on the function box changing rapidly. It was “nighttime” shift in this part of the Sun Works, the reason so few people were about. Soon 15 glowed bright and the elevator halted. As the door swished open, they entered a light-gravity area. Trotting along the passageway because of the twenty-five percent gravity, they turned into a larger corridor. Green and yellow arrows on the walls showed the directions to various terminals. They followed the yellow arrows and soon came to a door titled: FUELING STATION 943.
With his heart hammering, Marten re-gripped his tangler. This was it. His father’s lips bared back like a wolf’s as he reached for the door.
They entered a circular room lined with consoles and screens. Soft classical music played over the AP. A dark-bearded technician in a blue and gold jumpsuit sat with his back to them at a fueling board. He listened to a tall, red-suited PHC officer, a harsh-faced youth who spoke with the customary arrogance of his kind.
“Then double-check it! Triple-check it if you have to!”
The technician stared up at a screen showing fueling bots at work on a space tug. Perhaps he also saw their reflection in the screen, for he turned and his eyes widened. The PHC officer turned too, and after a second’s hesitation, he clawed at his holstered sidearm.
Marten was faster than his father, bringing up the tangler as he pressed the firing stud. A black, egg-shaped capsule exploded against the technician. Strong, sticky strands wrapped around him, entangling the man as his dark face flushed with fear. His father’s needler shot slivers of ice. Noiselessly, they punctured the PHC officer’s chest. A look of shocked surprise tore the arrogance from his face. He tried to gurgle as his knees buckled.
Ben Kluge bounded near the dying PHC officer, touching the needler over the heart as he pumped extra shots.
The technician’s sputters quit as terror twisted his features. “L-Look.”
“Shut up,” said Ben Kluge, pressing the needler against the technician’s forehead.
The man gobbled silently. Ben Kluge dragged him upright and propelled him toward an exit.
Avoiding looking at the dead officer, Marten shuffled to the fuel board. Sweat prickled under his neck-seal and his stomach lurched. He fumbled a plastic credcard cracker out of his tech-kit. He checked his chronometer, waited twelve seconds and then slid the card into the function box. His mother’s bio-computer had worked six long months on the credcard cracker, perfecting it to fool the system’s checks. He waited what seemed forever and then the fuel board’s green light blinked.
Marten heaved an explosive sigh. Kilometers from here in a secret docking bay, liquid hydrogen filled their stealth pod’s fuel tanks. He turned to tell his father.
Ben Kluge stumbled backward out of the exit. Blood squirted from his neck—so bright and red. His needler fired ice slivers; then the gun went click, click, click.
Marten was too shocked to speak.
With blood running down his vacc suit, Ben Kluge turned toward his boy. Then his head blossomed, blood and bone showering everywhere.
Time slowed, as Marten screamed, “NO!” and swiveled toward the exit. Combat-suited PHC personnel — police in bulky, red-colored armor — poked their carbines through the door. Slugs whined around Marten, shattered screens and pinged off the consoles.
Marten’s tangler made exploding, popcorn kernel sounds as he fired back. Then he ran and slipped a bomb out of his pouch, flicked the activation switch. The bomb hit the floor with a thud, rolled. Marten’s chest felt hollow as his receivers picked up PHC curses because he’d entangled them. He dove through the door. It swished shut and an explosion shook the room. Hot shrapnel tore through the door. A moment later Marten leaped up and raced down the corridor. Tears streamed from his eyes.
“Hey, you!” shouted a technician. Marten tangled him.
Soon he was back at the compression chamber. Klaxons wailed and emergency codes locked all hatches. Marten overrode his and floated outside where a million stars and a dead planet provided him background. A glance showed him that the planted bombs hadn’t blown.
“Marten?” he heard over his comm-line.
“What happened, Marten?” She waited back in their cubbyhole HQ, an abandoned shaft near the station’s outer Sun-shield.
“They got father, and the bombs didn’t work. What are we going to do?” As he talked he wrestled with the thruster-pack.
For a time she didn’t speak, long enough for him to don the thruster-pack and jump off the habitat wall.
“I want you to listen carefully.”
He didn’t like her tone.
“You can’t come back here. Not…”
“Mom! Mom! What’s happening?”
“Shhh. You must keep calm, Marten. The outer locks just blew, which indicates they’re coming for me. Simon gives it a ninety-four percent chance it’s over.” Simon was her name for the bio-computer.
Marten gulped as his thruster burned, as he sped like a speck across the face of Mercury below and the Sun Works Ring all around. He wanted to wail, to gnash his teeth.
“We always knew this might happen,” his mother was saying. “Now I want you to listen closely, Marten. I love you. Your father loved you.”
Why was she talking like this?
“Check your last card, the black one.”
He fumbled with his tech-kit, almost spilling it and sending the contents tumbling into orbit. Then he saw it, a black credcard.
“Go to A-23. Do you understand?”
He was being monitored, that’s what she was telling him.
“Good luck, Marten. Go with God.” He heard an explosion in her background—the inner locks being blown — he heard shouting, gunfire and a scream.
He almost broke down, almost howled like a beaten dog until his throat was raw. Instead, a hard knot formed in his gut. Much of their iron, their fire and resolve lived in him. So he slipped the black card into his hand computer. And what he read shocked him. His mother’s deviousness and cunning had almost insured them a new future in the Jupiter Confederation.
He readjusted his flight path and zoomed toward the inner curve of the habitat. Soon numbers and markings flashed underneath him.
The fifth Doom Star had just been completed. Now more space welders were needed in the Earth system, to make yet another farming gigahab. Since the sixth Doom Star was still in the planning modification stage, welding wouldn’t begin for another year. That freed enough space welders so five transports left for the Earth system.
Alarm codes rang in Marten’s helmet. That meant the alert had gone station wide. PHC hunted for him. To listen to the alarms was more than he could handle. So he shut off the comm-unit. But despite his best efforts, he could no longer control his emotions. On his arm-pad, he punched in a command to his vacc suit’s medical unit. A hiss sounded in his ears, the suit’s hypo-spray. A cooling numbness spread over him and the awful agony in his chest faded. The double dose of tranks allowed him to smile as he rode the thruster-pack a bare few feet above the habitat.
In the distance floated bulky transports and boarding tubes snaking out of the Sun Works Factory to them. Farther a-field winked the blue and red work-lights of space tugs and their accompanying bots.
He concentrated as he slowed his momentum. Then he unhooked himself and set the thruster-pack on auto. He pushed himself “down.” Because of the law of motion the pack went one way and he the opposite. A moment later, the empty thruster-pack burned for the last time, shooting off in a new direction. Marten watched it go and barely remembered to ready himself. He bent his knees and turned on the magnetic clamps at minimum power. As he shot past the station’s plates, he ran lightly, using his boots’ weak magnetic force to slow his speed. Finally, he increased magnetic power and brought himself to a halt. He sweated from the exertion and his conditioners hummed at overdrive.
He studied the nearest markings, turned forty degrees and walked, making the customary clank, clank, clank of a magnetic stroll. Sixteen minutes later, he came to an emergency hatch. He entered a small utility tube and shed his vacc suit. From there he traveled through narrow maintenance shafts. He floated faster than a man could run in normal gravity. In time, he found Junction Z-321-B and felt under a girder. He extracted a welder’s gray jumpsuit, boots and traveling kit, along with a wallet that contained a single ID card; one Simon had carefully crafted. Marten stuffed his old clothes into the pod and carefully weighed the tangler.
For three years he’d carried it, kept it under his pillow at night.
He broke it in half, slipped it into the stash pod and attached the pod back under the girder.
He swallowed. Without the tangler, he felt naked. Fortunately, the double dose of tranks kept him from cracking up or crying. He began to float-travel.
After several kilometers, he slipped into a main corridor with light-gravity. Brown Earth tones, soft music and the occasional shrub changed the feel of this corridor, although the usual arrows pointed out the nearby destinations.
He waited twenty-one minutes, sitting on the lip of the pot that contained a shrub. Finally, a group of welders marched near. They were hard-faced men with thick necks and gnarled hands. They wore gray jumpsuits; a few of them had synthetic-leather jackets, most had hats. Each welder carried his kit and had his ID ready. Marten rose with a grunt and jointed the back of the group. A few of the welders glanced at him, taking in his clothes and kit.
He nodded. The tranks allowed him to keep his features even. “Got lost in this maze,” he said. “Been waiting for you guys to show up.”
One welder glanced at his fellows and then shrugged noncommittally. It wasn’t wise to ask too many questions. The others, perhaps thinking similar thoughts, ignored Marten.
The noise level grew and they marched into the Docking Bay 13 Terminal. It was circular-shaped, spacious and packed with welders, technicians, bureaucrats, military personnel and bulky-armored, red-colored PHC officers on the prowl. Plexiglas windows five stories overhead allowed everyone a view of the nearest shuttles and the twinkling stars behind. Tall palms, several modern sculptures and a fountain rose in the center of the terminal, along the sides stood lockers, restrooms and waiting cubicles.
Marten slipped from his group and hunkered on a stool at a refreshment booth. He ordered a beer and sipped, waiting for announcements. His dark thoughts threatened to overwhelm him. He ordered a second beer.
“A-19!” called a bored docking clerk over the AP. “Report to Area Eight.”
Marten drained his beer, maybe his last one. He began to tremble as he saw the long line of welders. They snaked toward a small booth and then the entrance to the boarding tube. Two PHC officers at the booth checked IDs. Marten stepped into line, advanced slowly. Would PHC simply kill him? His trembling increased. Simon had picked up rumors of a new experimental station for political undesirables.
Then he recalled why he was in line, why he’d been forced into this long shot. “Bastards,” he muttered.
A tall welder with dark eyebrows glanced at him.
Marten bared his teeth in a savage smile, a parody of his father’s combat grimace. As the tall man jerked forward, Marten wondered if it had been wise to drink those beers on top of the tranks. He couldn’t do anything about it now. So he shrugged.
Perhaps nine minutes later a PHC officer growled, “Next.”
The tall welder in front of Marten held out his ID.
A PHC woman snatched it from him and fed it into her computer. After two seconds, the unit beeped. The woman jerked out the ID and shoved it at the welder, waving him through.
Marten gulped, stepped forward.
“What’s wrong with you?” the woman asked, eyeing him. Her hair had been shaved down to her scalp and she had a nasty look.
Fear froze Marten’s tongue.
The woman leaned near, sniffed his breath. “You’ve been drinking. That’s against regs for an out-system traveler.”
Speechless, Marten could only stare into her pitiless eyes.
“Step out of line you,” ordered the PHC officer beside the woman, using his carbine to poke Marten in the chest.
Marten recovered his wits. “I-I heard our transport has a reactor leak. I needed something to calm my nerves is all.”
The woman narrowed her already hostile gaze. “Who told you that?”
“About the reactor leak!”
“Two maintenance men. I overheard them talking.”
“An eavesdropper, eh?” growled the man.
“Forgot about that,” the woman said. “Maintenance was warned to keep quiet.”
“They’ll have to be told again,” the man said, “after they exit the agonizer.”
The woman grinned as she lifted her comm-unit to report this delicious news.
As he waited, Marten tried not to sway.
Finished reporting, the woman snatched his ID, checked it and then waved him through with an arrogant flick of her wrist.
The released fear almost made him vomit. But he didn’t. Instead, he floated through the tube and entered the transport. Like most transports, the interior was plain and utilitarian, with hundreds of brown cushioned seats laid out in claustrophobically close rows. Welders buckled themselves in. A few chatted, some napped, while others put on vid-goggles and watched porn.
Marten settled down and waited. His tranks wore off and his stomach twisted. He envisioned a hundred different problems. Finally, however, an hour and fifteen minutes later, he was pressed without warning into his cushioned seat. That’s what he hated most about Social Unity; they treated you like cattle. As the growing acceleration shoved him deeper, he said a silent prayer for his parents. Then he wondered about his forged passes to Australian Sector. Would they work? He had no idea. But even if they did work—Earth was birthplace to Social Unity, the epicenter of the most suffocating political creed ever invented. If the Sun Works Factory had been hell, what would it be like on Earth?
Part I: Civilian
Concrete, glass and plasteel buildings sprawled for kilometers in all directions, but especially down. Greater Sydney, Australia wasn’t as congested as Hong Kong or New York, but its fifty-one million inhabitants seldom felt the sun’s warmth. There wasn’t anything wrong with the sun or its ability to shine upon the populace. Ozone depletion, although long a concern, had been taken care of a century ago. Nor was smog any worse than it had been at the beginning of the Twenty-first Century. The problem for sun-lovers had taken a different turn.
To feed Earth’s hordes took more land than the world had and more than all the resources of the sea-farms. Thus, a hundred agricultural gigahabs orbited the planet. And even in the middle of the greatest civil war the Solar System had ever known, transports went up and down every hour of the day. So to save land the cities buried themselves into the Earth rather than sprawl outward in ever widening circumferences. If humanity hadn’t taken this radical turn, concrete, glass and plasteel would have covered the entire planet by 2349.
Greater Sydney boasted 59 levels, neither the greatest nor the least among the planet’s megalopolises. Mole-like machinery eternally chewed into the stygian depths, expanding and mining, growing the city at a pre-determined rate.
Most of the fifty-one million inhabitants carried their Social Unity cards with proud dignity. They had been taught that the Inner Planets needed people who could work together for the good of the whole. Loners, hermits and individualists who were found out — and eventually everyone was — underwent strenuous re-education or a stint of labor-learning in the algae tanks.
Sometimes, however, even in this age of social paradise and even during the raging civil war, certain officials took advantage of their rank or failed to zealously perform all their duties.
Marten Kluge claimed he wasn’t angry, upset or even nervous. So he didn’t understand why Molly kept telling him to relax. As they stood alone in the narrow corridor outside the hall leader’s office, she tweaked his collar, fidgeting nervously with it.
“Didn’t I tell you not to miss any more of the hum-a-longs,” she whispered, her pretty face creased with worry. She picked a speck of lint off his collar. “Maybe you could say you had a cold. That your throat hurt.”
“The hum-a-longs don’t have anything to do with this,” said Marten. It was almost three years since he’d escaped out of the Mercury system. He’d turned into a lean, ropy-muscled young man with a handsome, expressive face and bristly blond hair.
He wore black shoes, tan pants and a modest tan jacket with a black choker, suitable attire for such an important meeting, or so Molly kept telling him.
Earth was amazingly different from the Sun Works Factory. He had thought it would be worse, and in a way, it was. The cage was gilded, cleaner than the Sun Works Ring that built the Doom Stars. Because of that, the people of Earth had lost… something essential. They couldn’t even see the cage anymore. The enormity of the changes to his life, the sheer impossibility to effect anything, had depressed and worn down his resolve. He missed his parents, missed talking to people who thought for themselves. All he wanted now was to throw off his Social Unity pretense and be who he really was, if only for a few hours.
“It must be the missed hum-a-longs,” Molly whispered, brushing his collar and bringing him back to reality.
“Tell me,” said Marten, “has the hall leader made another advance on you?”
“…What difference would that make?”
Silence was his only answer.
She lifted worried green eyes, and with a gesture he’d come to adore she brushed her stylish bangs. “Promise him you won’t miss any more hum-a-longs. Maybe offer to watch your neighbors more diligently.”
Before he could reply, the door opened and a thin woman in a mufti robe stepped out. “Marten Kluge?”
He didn’t know it, but his face tightened and his shoulders tensed.
“Be careful, Marten,” Molly whispered. “And don’t say anything rash.”
As he followed the mufti-robed woman, his throat constricted. So even though it was ill advised, he tore off the choker and slipped it into his jacket pocket. The chokers were the latest craze, showing unity against the invaders. Molly had bought him one expressly for the meeting.
The outer office — the woman’s — was as coffin-small as his rental. Her desk and computer terminal filled it. So when she turned to open the hall leader’s door, she brushed his shoulder.
“Excuse me,” he said.
She frowned, staring at his now bare throat. Then she turned and said, “Hall Leader. Marten Kluge seeks your guidance.”
The hall leader glanced up from behind his computer desk. He was small with narrow shoulders and wore a crisp brown uniform and military style cap — that to hide his thinning hair. He had ever-vigilant eyes and a mouth habitually turned down with disapproval. His eyes narrowed as he viewed Marten, and he touched the choker around his own throat.
Marten’s bare throat felt exposed, naked, and it made him fidgety. So without thinking about it and before being bidden, he squeezed past the woman and stepped into the hall leader’s office.
“Humph,” the woman said under her breath.
The hall leader’s mouth twitched.
“You sent for me,” said Marten.
“I requested your presence,” said Hall Leader Quirn. To his secretary, “Hold any inquiries until we’re done.”
“Yes, Hall Leader.” She closed the door.
Marten marveled at the office’s spaciousness. It held the desk, two low-built chairs and a stand to the left with a potted plant. A holoscreen “window” showed crashing ocean waves.
“I appreciate your promptness,” said Hall Leader Quirn, although he didn’t rise or offer his hand.
Marten ignored the slight as he forced himself to act pleasant.
“Please,” said Quirn, “take a seat.”
“Thank you,” Marten said, sitting in one of the low-slung chairs. He noticed the higher-seated hall leader now looked down at him.
Quirn gave him a superior smile as he picked up a plastic chart and tapped it against the desk. “Marten, I’m afraid we have some unfortunate business to discuss. Yes, troubling business.”
Marten lurched to his feet.
Marten grimaced and touched his forehead. Then he looked up. “The pain comes and goes. But I feel better now.”
“Splendid. If you’ll retake your seat.”
“I’ll stand if it’s okay with you? Sitting too much…” Marten shrugged. “You know how it is.”
“What I have to say is better discussed if you sit.”
In his imagination, Marten could hear Molly: “Sit down, Marten. Don’t be rash.” His knees lost strength and he almost sank into the low-slung chair.
“No. I’ll stand.”
Quirn leaned back in his chair, eyeing him.
“Hmm.” Quirn sat forward and placed the plastic chart on the desk, smoothing it with his fingers. “Very well, we shall proceed.”
“No, Marten, I’m afraid that it’s not good. And that pains me. Of all the tasks a hall leader performs, this is personally the most difficult. Yet none of us is allowed to shirk his responsibilities. There would be chaos otherwise. Now then, your profile… Marten, it’s taken a decided turn for the worse. It’s come to my attention that you’ve actually missed three hum-a-longs in a row.”
“I-I had a cold,” Marten said, the excuse sounding lame even to his ears. “My throat hurt.”
Quirn’s voice became an octave more menacing. “During that time you’ve also missed two discussions and quite incredibly failed to fill out any community charts. Now.” He cleared his throat, reaching for one of the drawers. “I will allow you to fill out several charts here this very moment. Particularly, I would like to know how Mr. Beerbower spends his quiet time from four in the afternoon to—”
“Uh,” Marten said, “I’d rather not.”
Quirn looked astonished. “Everybody fills out community charts. We watch out for one another.”
“Now see here, Marten, the entire thrust of Social Unity demands that we care about our community. In a time of grave crisis such as this we must be certain that the group functions as smoothly as ever, as one.” Quirn opened the drawer and took out a plex-sheet, holding it across the desk.
Marten hesitated. He could take the plex-sheet and fill in nonsense as he’d done in the past. But that didn’t really matter today, did it? It was a known fact that the hall leader switched partners with amazing regularity, and his partners were always attractive and energetic. Whispers abounded that Quirn saw such couplings as conquests. Few dared refuse his advances. Molly had the most persistently, and Marten was certain the hall leader now took it as a personal challenge to win her. But without cause to sweep him, Marten, off the board and into the slime pits, might that not embitter Molly?
“This is quite unprecedented, Marten. Failing to fill out the charts shows a decided lack in political duty. Perhaps…” Quirn’s eyes narrowed. “Perhaps you hold heretical views.”
Marten still couldn’t reach out and take the plex-sheet. He knew he couldn’t tell Quirn that he was tired of pretending, especially now that the Highborn attacked. The truth was that he was soul sick, cramped, feeling as if he should have gone down fighting with his Mom and Dad. He’d watched Quasar several weeks ago and had seen a documentary on the cave paintings in Southern France Sector. What had fascinated him was the whole idea of cavemen. Free to roam wherever they willed. Hunting for food, really protecting their mates. It had seemed so… alive. He’d imagined himself bellowing at other cavemen, a club in his hands. Only he couldn’t believe that he would have dragged Molly around by the hair. That part had seemed like propaganda against cavemen. A man who fought for his woman would cherish her, treat her most likely as the greatest thing in his free-living life. Like his Dad had treated his Mom.
“No?” Quirn said icily. “Very well.” He put the plex-sheet back in the drawer, closing it with a thump. Then he folded his hands on his desk, although his mouth quivered with distaste. “I’ve given this much thought, Marten. I’ve called Reform through Labor and openings are available.”
“You’re sending me to the slime pits?” For a wild instant Marten envisioned himself leaping over the desk and attacking the hall leader.
Quirn raised a hand. “You know very well that a political crime such as yours —”
“Missing three hum-a-longs is a crime?”
“Please don’t interrupt. And the answer is yes, for refusing to join your friends and neighbors in sanctioned political harmony, for willfully staying away, that is a political crime, and that translates into an assault upon humanity. Almost as repugnant are your thought-crimes — surely you have some. Fortunately, for you, Marten, the guidelines unequivocally state that thought-crimes occur to most citizens at one time or another — thus the need for a firm teaching party like Social Unity. Yes, a stint in the “slime pits” as you put it might be in order. However, in your case I don’t believe that would help, and in these trying times even heretics like you must pull their weight. Marten, you need to understand that the State wants to correct your bad tendencies so that you can become fully functional again. So, I’ve thought of the perfect job that I believe will help teach you this.”
Marten stared at the hall leader, wondering what the man’s devious mind had thought up.
Quirn shoved a small slip of plex-paper across the desk.
Marten picked it up. Biocomp engineer, it read. Then he noticed the hours: Early morning shift.
“I’ll have to get up when everyone else is asleep.”
“Yes,” said Quirn.
Then Marten understood. With these new hours, he wouldn’t be able to spend as much time with Molly. In other words, she’d have more time alone. And because he hadn’t been sent to the slime pits, Molly would surely be grateful to the hall leader. Very neatly done, Marten thought sourly. He looked at the slip of plex-paper again: Biocomp engineer.
Copyright © 2010 by the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.