The Finite Void and the History Department at the University of Centrum Kath – Chapter One

Chapter One

Location: Scout Family Farm, 100 acres of farmland high in the Young Mountains on Andil Four – the other side of the Void

“I saw them. Come quick” Newt was out of breath and there was a wild look at his eyes. Peyfo looked up from his book at his youngest son, then over to his wife, Parebant. He stood quickly and walked over to the mantle and removed the long rifle hanging above the fireplace. The smell of fresh baked bread filled the house.

“Remain calm” he said to the rest of the family. “Gather some food and wait near the back door for me.”

“Father, will we go to the caves?” Asked his youngest daughter Servus.

“I don’t know. But while I’m gone, pray.” Servus picked up the Book of Menda and put it in the pocket of her apron.

The Mechs as they were called arrived on Andil Four two days ago. During that time the radio was filled with reports of the large metal machines hovering in the sky and destroying everything on the ground. The first attack was on the capital city, Prophetam. It took less than 20 minutes before the capital and it’s one million inhabitants were annihilated.
Newt walked beside his father to the front door the farmhouse. When they got to the door his father put his hand on his shoulder.

“Wait here” Peyfo said.

“But father” Newt protested. But Peyfo raised his hand to silence him.

“No. You stay. If I’m not back in a few minutes, get the family to the caves.”

Newt did not respond. But his face displayed the anger and contempt he felt towards his father, the man responsible for the bruises on his face. His father pulled up his fist and threatened Newt.

“Okay, okay” Newt said backing away quickly. Peyfo quickly opened the door and was gone.

His mother motioned for him to come to the kitchen. She held a large rough sack, the kind they used for potatoes. It was half full of food. She handed it to Newt.

“Is it too heavy?”

“No mom. I can carry it even when it’s full.”

“You’re a good son. The family is blessed that you are part of us.”

“Mother, can I bring my wedding dress or do you think it will get ruined in the caves?” Asked Pareb. Pareb Scout was planning to get married to Close Bronton after nearly 2 years of courtship.

“Cover it carefully in cloth and put pillows on top of it in the basket. That should keep it safe” replied her mother.

“I’m worried mother. Close didn’t call me on the radio this morning. He calls me first thing every morning so that his voice is the first thing I hear every day. But there was no word from him today. I don’t know what I’ll do if something happens to him. I’ll just want to die.”

“We all know how much you love him dear. But right now I need you filling bottles of water.”

“Yes mother” the woman replied in the voice of trained submission.

When his mother finished filling the sack, Newt carried it to the back door. As he passed through his father’s workshop, he grabbed two boxes of bullets and two pistols and shoved them into the sack.

Meanwhile Peyfo stood at the edge of the trees surrounding the house and looked far off in the distance, past his field of corn ready for harvest, past the barns and chicken coop’s, and past the steep cliff that marked the edge of his property. Several miles away a huge spacecraft larger than the Great Temple in the capital city floated effortlessly in the air. Coming from the under side of the vessel were blinding white-blue lights. Where these lights touched the ground everything was incinerated instantly, nothing but ash remained. There were many explosions from the heat.

Peyfo was scared. He watched the ship as it destroyed four of his neighbors farms and farmhouses systematically and efficiently, the beams moving across the land in the same way Peyfo ploughed his fields. He watched as the Bronton farmhouse was reduced to ash. He turned and ran back toward his house.

Little was known about the Mechs. They appeared in the sky two days ago and the destruction began. They showed no mercy. Or compassion. There was a rumor that came across the radio last night. A mobile radio operator claimed to have found the frequency used by the Mechs. But he said the language was unknown to him and consisted of machine created beeps at high speed. There was no evidence they were human.

Peyfo recalled the history passed down to the Elders. The way their people were held in slavery under the rule of the heathen Bitch McGee, the whore that slaughtered billions of them rather than submit to the truth of their faith. Then the miraculous story of their escape and the way the void welcomed them into its darkness then swallowed up and destroyed the forces of McGee as they entered in murderous pursuit. And after a long time in darkness, they came out on the other side into Paradise.

Now this. Perhaps the Bitch McGee had finally found them. She is immortal because she is the devil.

As he entered the front door, his wife looked at his worried face.

“Did you see them?”

“Only one ship. But that’s all they needed. Destiny has been destroyed.”

“The entire town?”

“Everything.”

“Even the temple?”

There was a long silence before he said “yes”.

“But that’s impossible” said Servus. “We’re protected.”

“Until we aren’t and that is now” Peyfo replied.

“But Elder Thompson says…”

“I know what Elder Thompson says” replied Peyfo in an annoyed tone of voice. “Shut up and help your brother with the food. We’re going to the caves and we’re going right now.”

Servus began to cry. Pareb moved over to her quickly and put her arms around her. She did this to soothe the younger sister and to protect her from their father.

“Get moving” their father yelled at them. They separated quickly and ran to the kitchen to their mother.

“You should not be so hard on them” said Parebant as she handed each of them a sack of food and gave them a soft pat.

“Don’t you start with me woman. I’ve got enough to worry about right now without your damned unholy attitude. So you shut the hell up or I will shut you up. Do you understand?”

“Yes my husband dear, I understand you perfectly.”

They were less than 100 m from the opening of the caves when the ship began to destroy the cornfields. A few seconds later the farmhouse that they built with their own hands succumbed to the destructive beams. There was a large explosion as the flammable liquids in the workshop ignited. They all heard it and began running as fast as they could towards the opening of the cave.

Parebant lead the children into the cave. They stopped to light the oil lanterns. Peyfo stood just inside of the cave and watched as his life’s work became nothing but ash and cinders. Every tree that made up their home had been cut down by him. Every acre of crops, vegetables and fruit had been planet by him. And now it was gone. The anger took hold of him again. He hated it. He couldn’t control it and it made him do things he regretted later.

He wasn’t in control. It wasn’t his fault, he told himself as had billions of weak men before him.

“Here father have some water” said Newt. His father slapped the cup from his hand.

“Leave me alone” came the angry bitter words.

Newt bent over to pick up the cup. When he did his father kicked him to the ground.

“Leave me alone. I won’t tell you again.”

“Yes father” said the young boy scared of another beating. He moved back into the cave and towards the light and the voices of his mother and sisters.

Anger is a terrible thing if not kept under control. It reduces the intellect and causes stupid actions. And this time was no different. Peyfo raised the long rifle to his line of sight and aimed it at the ship. Then he took a deep breath, grunted an obscenity under his breath and fired his weapon three times.

Just a moment later the white-blue beam hit the opening of the cave. Peyfo was immediately incinerated. But worse than this, the only opening to the cave collapsed and his family was trapped inside.

They survived nearly 5 weeks before the food and water ran out. Their final meals were the pages from the Book of Menda. They still had hope the it would save them. Instead they all became ill from the ink used on the paper.

On their last day Newt took the pistol from the sack and loaded it. After a long time of thinking, reflection and crying the cave echoed with the first of four loud gunshots.

In the end, all animal life on Andil Four was exterminated. The Mech spaceships moved on.

 

‘What do you mean that I’m an Improbable? I’m as probable as the next person’
– The First McGee (before she knew)

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Telus

by Steve M

Yeah, I wrote this. Blame no one else.

2017

 

The Telus are short. The tallest one is maybe 5 feet if they stand on their toes. Except for that the only other noticeable physical attribute is that they all have slightly long arms that almost come down to their knees. There humans just like the rest of us. They’re just a slightly different branch of the same tree. They been part of our community for hundreds of years. The Telus are important members of our society. And it’s not just because of their high math skills. Sure they can do in their heads with the rest of us have to do through the interface. But it’s their contribution that we value. I count them among my friends. On our island we have over 300 Telus that live among us. I really see no reason to hate them.

But they are hated. The ignorant hate them because they look different. Others hate them because they behave differently. They seem to have a natural tendency towards fairness. This makes them particularly good at arbitrating disputes. They act as judges and for this they are particularly despised. On the island we go out of our way to teach our children that the Telus are part of us and should receive the same respect as the rest of us.

It was not like that everywhere. Some planets didn’t allow any Telus on them. Others will permit Telus but only under extremely restrictive circumstances, such as they can not own land, they can’t operate a business and they can’t hold positions in government administration. Whereas on Colonum we’ve twice elected a Telus as our representative to the Council of Islands.

But not all things are within our control. There is an ugly force spreading across our galaxy. It rolls back thousands of years of progress. In its place comes The Kingdom. The Kingdom is the name for one of the most brutal philosophies ever created. Personally I don’t think it’s a philosophy, seems more like one of those ancient Earth religions to me.

Gilliard Three had to make a choice. We could either let our planet fall under the control of The Kingdom or align our planet with the Homeland Defense League. Neither was a good option. Reports indicate that The Kingdom sometimes slaughters half the population of the planet and the other half are retained as slaves.

The Homeland Defense League (HDL) is led by a very charismatic leader named Duri. He inspires many to defend their homeland against The Kingdom. Gilliard Three has no defenses. We’ve never needed them before. But now we do and now there are nine cruisers from Commander Duri’s fleet in orbit above us.

It is not just limited to spacecraft in the sky. There are 50,000 troops now on the planet to help us prepare our defenses. I wish I could tell you that their arrival went smoothly but it didn’t. Civilian populations do not follow orders as well as military populations. Civilians will question orders and the decision-making process behind them. There was conflict. Four people died. Now we have training for both civilians and military on methods of interacting for successful outcomes. Still among most of our people, just below the surface of the polite facade, there is resentment.

So there was a rumor that Commander Duri was once in love with the Telus woman. Yes I will admit that they are attractive. But they are small and while I count them among my friends, their way of looking at the world and their philosophy of life, if they have one, can be quite tedious. Perhaps I’m not as capable as they are of being pedantic. Guess I’ll never be a judge. Either way, if the commander had his heart broken by a Telus woman that would explain his hatred of them. The man we are depending on for our defenses declared just recently “Telus are not even human.”

We’ve heard that he has rounded up Telus on other planets and put them in large camps under armed guards. Now I hope you appreciate my problem.

In less than an hour from now an agent from the HDL will arrive at my office and expect to receive a list containing the names and addresses of every Telus on our island. I told him yesterday that it would take until today for me to put the list together because we don’t make a distinction on any of our records.

Last night all of the Telus were taken to the Cave of Pirates. Thermo shields have been put in place to keep them undetected and there are plenty of provisions because we use the cave as an evacuation center during winter storms.

I’m so sorry, my manners are terrible. I am Purdue, chief administrator on the island. Other islands call them mayors.

The man coming to see me from the HDL is a normal looking man. My height, not too fat, very short hair and his black uniform is in immaculate condition. It’s when he opens his mouth that I despise him. He is a zealot, one that feeds on the hatred of the Telus. I sat politely and smiled as I listened to the vile words he spoke to me yesterday. And know this, I am not prone to violence. But yesterday I wanted to hit this man. I wanted to hurt him for the words like ‘exterminate’, ‘problem’, ‘dogs’, ‘bitches’, ‘vermin’.

So I will listen politely to the man again. I will think about the ancient projectile weapon in the drawer of my desk. I will dream of using it on him. But I won’t.

And yes I will give him the list.

On it will be one name: mine.

Today I am Telus.

Alsonium Falls

Alsonium Falls

By Steve M

Yeah, I wrote this. Blame no one else
– 2017

 

The inmates called it Also. Most of them did, anyway. Definitely all of the surface dwellers. Those below the surface, Rattlers, had a more angry view towards the place. Most of their names for the place were not repeatable. I know because I was one.

Women’s prisons were on the surface, along with the most trustworthy men, mostly homosexuals and those who defrauded the gullible with tales of vast wealth waiting for them. No one’s buys it in prison and its their only skill. So they are toothless and mostly harmless. But political women? They’re still four deep like the men.
It started with the celebration when the emperor died. The inmates made a ruckus for all of the daylight hours. There was a lot of singing. They called out the greeting ‘lovely day’ to each other. The guards were not willing to take a lot of action against them. It was less than a month since they got wiped out in the pay negotiations with management. Four percent pay cut and they were no long allowed to claim their uniforms. But eventually even the dispirited and underpaid take action.

The guards responded by turning off the lights and locking it all down. 22 hours of pitch darkness on the sub levels. Rattlers began to riot the next time the doors were unlocked. We burned anything that would ignite. The guards eventually responded with an partial deoxidation of one small block on the political prisoner sub terrain. It worked. After several hours, order was restored. It was my block they sucked the air out of. I woke to one hell of a headache.

During the period between unlocking and deoxidation, 42 political prisoners suspected of collaboration with prison authorities were murdered by inmates. News of this spread to all the levels quickly. Seven of the dead were in the women’s political quadrant. The Pols now had credibility and trust of the other inmates. The days that followed saw an increase in the number of incidents.

There was a work slow down by prisoners in all areas but farming. Guards reported a four fold increase in call outs (workers start yelling out grievances against prison authorities). Guard had learned that call outs were a way for prisoners to release their frustration. To stop the call out was to risk a riot.

The news yellers began a week later. They initially suffered a lack of credibility. People yelled out things simply not true. After the first day, Jane Do-Ra-Me, as she called herself, made a suggestion of cross quadrant validation and it was put into place. Two disconnected sources confirm each other. Journalism 101.

When Albert Djuro, minister of prisons was relieved of duty as part of the first round of purges after the emperor’s death, prisoners celebrated for two days. All work except for food production was stopped. Prison administrators were unsure whether deoxidation would be grounds for being considered an advocate of Djuro and thus ensure their own removal. Djuro was known for the extremely brutal way he ran prisons. Deaths across his prisons numbered more than 100 thousand.

The speech by First Minister Krushank, calling out the mistakes of the Emperor, made its way through the prison like wildfire. The explicit mention of prisons like Alsonium as one of the late emporer’s most egregious mistakes was widely celebrated. It gave much hope to the prisoners. And it ensured that they would have air to breath.

The day Djuro was executed with two other former members of the executive committee, prisoners rioted across all levels of the prison. What began in the kitchens quickly spread to the cell blocks and then even into the sealed areas. Prison guards didn’t know it was coordinated between levels. Our strongest were being brought through the sealed rooms when it all began. Once we had those rooms, guards had to retreat or face us once we got through the final seals. They wasted no time in their retreat.

Seventy three guards were inside prisoner areas. Forty four of them were taken as hostages and remained unharmed until the end. Twenty nine were convicted of crimes against inmates and were executed. All other personnel, nearly twelve hundred people, retreated with Alsonium Managing Director Duro into the Green Zone.

They stayed behind the impenetrable barrier and watched as the rest of the asteroid was taken over by prisoners.

That the number of political prisoners was only slightly smaller than the number of criminals was significant. It says a lot about the culture under Emporer Oluranon. Crime was permitted as long as it didn’t effect those in power or those with money. Among the majority in the empire, the poor, theft was rarely prosecuted.

But on a Homeland? On those hallowed hills of the first families? Even spitting in tall grass will get you time on Alsonium or the hundred other prisons just like it. On a Homeland, respect for others is the law. If you don’t know your place and abide by it, a trip to a Homeland will not go well for you. But there are plenty of deference guides you can read before you go. But this isn’t about a homeland.

The Green Zone controls the means of entry and exit from Alsonium. The landing zone is there. All ships depart and arrive in the zone, with one notable exception. At polar opposite ends of the asteroid sat cruiser level ships, class W. Each came with over one thousand pre-set destinations. It took me a little while to figure it out. Been a while.

Of all of the prisoners on our level, Vella had the biggest mouth. For almost thirty years she had gone from one insult of the emperor to another and from one prison to another. Judges would give her long sentences and the emperor would commute them down to a few years as part of his public relations campaign to be the benevolent tyrant.

It started years ago when she performed ‘The Emperor Has A Tiny One’ during the finals of The Dream, the most watched talent show in the galaxy. This angelic songbird dressed in white sang a song that violated eleven different laws. And she did it live in front of an audience of nearly three hundred billion. Not only was she prosecuted for it, she also had a number one hit song in two thirds of the empire where the emperor was not well liked.

During her trial she released a followup number one, ‘Small Love’, continuing the theme from the her first hit. Even Al-noun reported on the phenomenon, which resulted in the retirement of Alson Brutillo as Chief Executive of the government sponsored news service.

So when Vella emerged onto the surface of the asteroid there was a crowd to meet her. And it was quite a sight to see, thousands upon thousands of prisoners coming up from the lower levels into the soft twillight of the Alsonium daytime. I had the vantage point of an abandoned guard tower to see the spectacle of humans as ants.

Vella gave a speech built upon the simple question: what if? What if we have to govern ourselves? What if we need some basic rules? What if we need to resolve disputes? What if we need to take care of each other? It was as fine a bit of oratory as I’ve ever heard. And I’m a pol, I’ve heard a lot of speeches. We all felt fearless when she finished speaking. She told us that we needed to be honest and fair in our discussion with prison officials. ‘Don’t make a threat you can’t back up’ she implored.

Communication with the Green Zone was possible from all parts of the prison. Prisoners initially used the video connection in order to send threatening messages to prison staff and management. Prisoners without any means of getting at prison personnel told the personnel exactly what they would do to them if given a non-existent possibility. There was also a lot of defecation on camera by the inmates.

We made no demands the first 24 hours of the uprising. The people in the Green zone didn’t seem to care what happened to our hostages. We wanted to trade hostages for water but management was not interested. ‘Let them die’ was what one of the prison managers said during negotiations.

We collected the dead bodies of the executed guards and put them in the incinerator. Their ashes were blown out into the barely evident atmosphere and would slowly begin their migration towards the black hole near which Alsonium was precariously perched. Some of the ashes would no doubt be caught on the long line of magnetic drive systems tethered by cables and gathering the near limitless energy created when matter is sucked into a black hole.
We were starting to do the first hundred assembly. Vella asked us to divide into groups of one hundred and try to agree on three basic rules of conduct. No killing, no lying, no stealing. Our group decided that in under five minutes. We changed no killing to no violence in order to make rape unacceptable. Then we elected a representative to give the message in a general assembly.

It wasn’t long before the mixing of female and male prisoners had its expected outcome. In the first hours of cohabitation, a wedding process and ceremony was agreed among the prisoners. And it was no surprise that Vella argued that marriage should be open to couples of every gender combination. It was agreed overwhelmingly by voice vote. I officiated at the wedding of Peter and Peter, two very polite older Pols.

I volunteered to be on security. They all knew I had been a soldier. Many of them knew the story of how I went from being a soldier to being a Pol. That’s why most of them didn’t try to start anything with me. And those that did? The only one that survived speaks with a stutter now and has short term memory problems. Don’t know why he survived. Was in a weird mood the day he got his. Killing doesn’t usually bother me. But that day, well, I’m back to normal now.

Want to know something strange? There were prisoners that wanted to negotiate the exit of all prison personnel and management. Then they wanted to declare a free republic. Imagine that, a free republic. Last one of those lasted exactly twenty eight days before the Emperor’s troops put an end to it. They thought that with the power struggle going on in the empire, perhaps the time was right.

It was the third day when she told me about the cruisers. I had never seen her before. She came into the security office and insisted to speak with the person in charge. I faked it and told her it was me. A pretty woman will do that sometimes to a guy.

Her full name is Salome Cordo, but prefers to be called Sal. She was a new Pol that arrived two days before the Emperor died. She had seen the cruisers when the shuttle that brought her got diverted for a couple of orbits to clear a departing supply vessel. The only windows on a prisoner ship are on the bridge and in the bathrooms. Sal was washing her hands after taking a crap when she saw them through the tiny porthole. She should have been back in her seat but the guard liked her and thought she was pretty. He got that part right.

Normally, I’m not a very trusting person. It’s an adaptation that happens to everyone in prison. Before we got rid of them, the snitches kept us all in fear. But Sal insisted that I take her with me. That she was good-looking, sure it helped. I won’t deny that. But her insistence on going told me that the ships were real.

And I know we’re both Pols. And we’re both hypocrites. I won’t deny that at all. And even worse, we never even had a discussion about it. I simply said, ‘lets go. Lets get out of here’, She nodded in agreement. A nod. Nothing more. But it was my words. My idea. My guilt.

We took some food and as much water as we could carry. I know if the cruisers were set up to military specifications there would be plenty of water. But the ships were under the control of a private prison company, one notorious for big dividends and low labor cost.

It was late at night and despite the new found freedom, not very many people ran the connecting streets between the biodomes. I’ve always appreciated that the designers put a lot of time and effort into making the ceilings and walls of the biodomes and their connectors see-through and optically accurate. I looked up to see the massive cables extending from Alsonium to the magnetic drives. From a distance it looks like big pieces of black string flying a kite if the kite were a magnetic device that were spinning at such a high speed that it looked like a star at the end of the

string.
It took us hours before we reached the last biodome. I used a large pipe wrench to pry open lockers in a room near the hatches until I found the lightweight surface suits. The atmosphere on the asteroid only contained 10% of the oxygen we needed. The suit worked as a large vacuum cleaner sucking in the atmosphere and concentrating the oxygen at a high enough level for human use. I watched Sal put on her suit. She watched me.

Once we were outside the airlocks the reduced gravity of the planet made our small steps huge leaps. And I will admit despite the fear, the adrenaline and the millions of thoughts running through my head, I enjoyed the low gravity effect. Sal looked at me and smiled. Then she stopped and put out her hand for me to take. We began to bound our way across the surface. And it didn’t take long until the pointed tip of the cruiser came over the horizon to greet us.

I’ve thought about it a lot over the years. Perhaps you think what I did was wrong. Perhaps you think that Sal and I should have taken others with us. You’re right. I could have saved some of them. But I didn’t and that’s a burden I’ll carry the rest of my life.

Yes I read the articles. I know the history of what happened after I left very well. I know about the art. And the music. It is a testament to the human spirit that in such circumstances, life-and-death circumstances, people still took time to do the things that enrich life and make it worth living. But when I heard their declaration of independence, I knew it would not turn out well.

I’ll tell you this, I didn’t deserve what happened to them. And I don’t think any of them did either. Guards included. And I’m not buying the media reports of engineer error. Turning off the only thing keeping you from being sucked into a black hole is not the kind of mistake someone is likely to make. And I bet it comes with a million and one warnings prior to shutting down. I think the home office decided to close a branch using a zero cost option. And they get to write it off.

Well at least Sal and I are safe out on the frontier. We’ve raised both of our children out here.
Now its time for me to get home before I get in trouble.

No, now you wait just a damned minute. I didn’t agree to that.

No, this wasrn’t an official conversation. It was off the record. In fact I will tell you this and this you can record and use: I made it all up. No one escaped Alsonium. There was no pair or cruisers. And if there was, they both got sucked into it and crushed down into nothing.

And me? I’m just a farmer from down the road with a large imagination. That’s all.

No I won’t show you my ID.

Good night, Miss Datta.

Earth Seven and the History Department at The University of Centrum Kath

It’s now up for Pre-Order on Amazon

Koven Modi, field historian. Trained, armed and scared.

http://tinyurl.com/msnd423

The next adventure is going to be Mortuis Luna and the History Department at The University of Centrum Kath*.

 

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Meeting Chuck

I took the shuttle from the moon back to Earth. Two years of lunar farming was not my idea of a vacation. But I got caught with Emprion and my judge was a total dick.
“You should respect yourself more. Filling your body with that poison will cost you your life if you keep this up” he told me before he handed down his sentence. Lying son of a bitch. Sitting up there drinking his Cali Cola acting like god.
And all this for something that can’t hurt me.

Emprion has no side effects. It’s not habit forming. You can’t OD on it. And it is one of those rare substances that actually heals without having to go through all of the chemical manipulation that other medicines go through. And that is a problem.

The shuttle station was crowded with weekend sight seers. Yeah, they go to the moon on the weekends and marvel at the domes and the fruit and veg growing in them. I got there Monday thru Friday and tend to their wonder on my hands and knees. They ooh and ah over the long pristine rows. They didn’t have to put on respirators because fertilizer drones were flying over their heads misting smelly shit everywhere.

The commercial problem with Emprion is that it heals and gets you high in its natural state. And that means that pharma doesn’t get to perform their magic. And without their magic, they can’t charge the kind of prices they are accustomed to getting.

In fact, a long time ago pharma got together and agreed that since they couldn’t make any money from Emprion, it should be banned. Something that used to grow wild everywhere became subject to the largest eradication effort in history. If it hadn’t been for the Bunt Brothers, Emprion would have been lost forever.

A small child that wasn’t watching where she was walking marched straight into my left leg and knocked herself down. I looked down to see the small hands yearning to hold security stretched upwards. I pick the child up for a moment. Then her mother swooped in like a bird guarding a nest. She quickly pulled her daughter from my arms and moved away. But not before she threatened me.
“I’ll report you” she said as she turned her back to me.

It wasn’t the first time. The Bureau of Prisons blue jumpsuit is the most recognizable piece of clothing on Earth. It comes with a big front chest patch and large letters across the back. Below the patch was my name and prisoner number and the quick scan code for anyone that needs to report me. The comms in their pocket will use it to identify me and hold the record until they delete it. Just BOP people within a 15 meter radius are kept in perm memory, the rest fade after 30 days.

My only consolation is that on a Friday night, at this shuttle station, their comms are capturing thousands of records as we make our way back for the weekend. It is my prayer that it will be just enough records to disrupt the constant video as the mindless dolts stream past me, their ear canal speakers set to a moderate volume, their noise canceling set to high, vid pros displaying images one meter in front of them. Visible to them but not others.

They all walk around not quite paying attention to reality. Prisoners of constant content. Add the circles app to the mix and the four quadrants projected in front of them can get confusing. Used to be able to have more than four. As many as you like. But for public safety reasons four became the limit. Things are like that a lot now, everything for public safety.

Holister Bridges. He’s the reason.

Mean son of a bitch started a movement called ‘Personal Power’. He wrote a book explaining how to find every possible instance where you have power over another, and on how to use it in order to control the other person. And in order for you to be completely successful they are required to acknowledge your superiority in the moment.

Holister Bridges also said that selfishness was a good thing, a righteous thing. And a lot of people agreed.

I read his book. Then I threw it away.

Sounded more like personal fascism than personal power to me. And I’d seen it at the RETURNS in a large store last weekend. One of his disciples.

“Excuse me, I said hello to you, how are you doing. And you think its acceptable behavior to ignore me? Yet you want something from me? Hello. Don’t be stupid, OK?”

Wanted to slug the jerk clerk when he said that. But two years is enough time eating strawberries on my knees.

Yeah strawberries. Luckiest thing ever happened in my life, I pull strawberries. I love strawberries. If you put a bowl of every fruit in front of me, I would choose strawberries.

Still, there are a lot of mean son of a bitches thanks to Holister Bridges. And our leaders consider him some sort of genius. So all over the world you can see his disciples berating, yelling at, admonishing, putting the screws to, demanding compliance from other poor slobs. Bridges was behind almost every public loud mouth you ever hear.

‘Optimizing Your Existence’ was his billion seller followup. In it he argued that some people (like him) were above the limits of societal laws and norms. These uber beings should exercise their right to be as mean and selfish as pleases them. The control and the pain they wield should be limited only by their ability to use them. And if you think that was bad, it got worse.

Then they started Tax-free Rewards. Once it became obvious to even the stupid that you could make a bundle by ratting out your friends for anything they do wrong, well there are points of no return for a society and this was clearly one of them.
It’s also how I got busted. Two days after we broke up I got busted for Emprion that was technically hers because I didn’t have any money when Tiny D came by with it. Now I know why she didn’t take it with her.

But enjoy it while you can, all of you assholes.

Speaking of assholes.
Yeah, I shoved them up my butt. Two each Sunday night before the shuttle back. They were controllers. Electronics. Wrapped up in a shit load of plastic wrap.  Shit load, get it?
Gonna be rich for doing it. Well maybe not rich, but at least not poor. That will be good enough for a change. I’d like to take some of the money and go back to college.

I think they are planning something for Sunday, after the last tourist shuttle, before the first set of chains arrive. Can’t do it like last time. That was a mess. Anyway, she told me that we can see it from Earth if the air isn’t too bad.

Yeah, it’s spoiled me up there. All the fresh air. No damned breather on my face all the time.
I signed the petition. Sure I did. Because its true, clean air is a right. We shouldn’t have to buy it from a damned beverage company. It’s air.

The judge brought up my signature during sentencing. I watched him drinking a California Cola without the slightest hint of irony that he was drinking a beverage from the large supplier of air to consumers. And when I pointed it out? That’s when one year became two.

Holister Bridges would have been proud of him.

My mouth has always been my downfall. Pointing out the things that no one wants to be reminded of. But its also been the thing that has got me the farthest, gotten me out of more fights, and into more panties that you can imagine. Its a double ended dildo.

But Chuck has my back. He’ll set me up with some finest. Get the long daze going for the weekend, right after I unplug.

Unplug ain’t quite the right word for it, but its the one everyone uses.
How does it really work?
I run the previous four hour results back into the monitor chip again. Its that simple. Gets me four hours to chill and BOP never even gets a whiff.

You know the real problem with Emprion, don’t you?
It makes people disrespectful.

Normally we would sit there, politely and quietly, while someone with perfect hair and personal power is being an asshole. But when you’re high on Emprior, or maybe just a person that contains a healthy amount of self-respect, you are likely inclined to say ‘fuck this, I’m outta here’.
To which hairspray will reply “You can’t. You must do as I say.”

Back and forth and back and forth, until it’s obvious that the only way happy follicles can get you to comply is to use force. And they do.

Split ends has an entire army of them just waiting for their chance to force you to comply.
My apologies. I am bald and I hate their hair. I could burn it off their heads with my envy.

Chuck will set me up.

She was the only person I had contact with. Told me her name was Bethany, but I didn’t believe her. Kind of cute. A little over weight. But imagine that, a guard that wants to blow up the prison. Pretty different don’t you think? But hey, she was pretty different, in a hot, slutty, sort of way. It didn’t take a lot for me to get into those panties, if you know what I mean. She sort of took the lead in that dimension of our relationship.

Haven’t seen her in the last month or so. Hope she didn’t get snitched out. Emprion is one thing, but they will execute us if they find out what we’re doing. I’m a good looking guy. But I look a lot better if I’m not swinging from the end of a rope on the news.

OK. Time to find Chuck. Supposed to meet me here. Gotta get used to seeing everyone in a breather again.

Hey, there he is. Smart dresser. Nice clothes that blend in.

Shit. Who are those men over there?
Fuck, its the cops.

Article Five

Article Five

by Steve M

Yeah, I wrote this. Blame no one else.

-2017

The commanders quarters on board the starship Lincoln were elegant. More art on the walls than furniture in the room. Captain Colfax stood at attention waiting for commander Han. Captain Hampton moved around the room admiring the pictures. The door at the other end of the narrow room opened and commander Han entered. He had been eating birthday cake in his private quarters on a video relay with his wife. It was his sixty fourth birthday. One more year then pension and golf.

“What is it this time?” Asked the tall slender commander in the dark blue uniform with three rows of insignia on the chest above the heart. He motioned for them to sit. Colfax sat down on the sofa legs together feet pointed straight ahead, his spine as straight as possible.

“Lima team” replied Hampton.

“It’s always Lima team. What did they do this time?” The look on the commanders face showed the annoyance of the eight other incidents escalated to him about Lima team.

“Let’s start at the top, what’s the body count?” Commander Han sat down at the sofa opposite the two captains.

“43” replied Colfax.

“This is a known rebel area, what’s the problem?” Asked commander Han.

“There was an incident” said Colfax sheepishly.

“I know that or else you wouldn’t be here. Don’t waste my time Colfax… Or yours.”

Commander Han reached forward and straighten some of the flowers in the vase on the table between them. Han didn’t like Colfax, didn’t trust him and as a result the commander was mean to him. Even on a large starship if you talk shit about someone behind their back they will eventually hear it. Han preferred Hampton, more laid-back and brutally honest to his face.

“What happened Ham?” The commander asked.

“It was Kessler again” replied Hampton.

“No it wasn’t” replied Colfax. “It was the rookie, the girl, the governor’s daughter.”

“Shit” replied the commander.

He may be a second rate provincial governor in the far spiral arm of the galaxy, but Deuce Whitlam had a big mouth, a clever media team and as a result everyone in the galaxy knew who he was. It was rumored that his daughter joined the service just to get away from the sanctimonious son of a bitch. Oxygen is not a fundamental right no matter how many signatures the good governor gets on his petition.

“If Kessler hadn’t started his dark Lord shit, she wouldn’t have acted.”

“She had no authority to act at all. She’s a damned shuttle pilot that’s all. She can’t even flush the waste tanks on her shuttle without permission” replied Colfax.

“Legend my ass” said the commander.

Kevin Kessler was a war hero.
He was also a psychopath addicted to the gore of battle, the thrill of the kill. But he had single-handedly stopped the rebel fleet at the asteroid belt for two days, playing hide and seek and destroying eight rebel ships. Then our fleet arrived and delivered a crushing defeat that the rebels still haven’t recovered from. Everyone owed Kessler. Every man, woman and child. Commander Han knew there would be trouble from the moment he was notified that Capt. Kessler was being transferred to his command.

“Tell me what happened from atmosphere on down” said the commander.

Hampton look at Colfax nodded for him to begin.

“She brought all 28 down from the clouds and dropped them two clicks away from the village. Hoverbikes. Full audio and visual on everybody. Then she climbed to theater overview at 200 m. Keesler and his team were on a mineral mission. They were authorized to search for Nomium 14 only.”

Nomium 14 is vital in the manufacture of all spacecraft or other vehicles that travel at high speeds. A hoverbike is a cross between a motorcycle and a sled, if they both had significant weaponry built in and floated off the ground.

“And Keesler did find some” added Colfax like a lawyer making a point of law that requires a stretch of logic.

Nomium 14 exist in three places in this galaxy. This planet, Chelong, had the lowest cost of extraction by over 50%. Seams of Nomium 14 started on the surface of the planet. Everywhere else it was dirty dangerous underground work. It is a source of money for the rebellion. There is a black market in Nomium 14 and other strategic molecules.

“Sure he found Nomium 14, take a look.” The space between them popped up with an image of a very scared woman being yelled at as she took off her wedding ring and handed it to the man with the gun. The woman’s husband yelled something in his native language that showed up and subtitled as ‘don’t hurt her, leave us alone’.

Kessler turned towards the man shot him twice with his R17. When the woman ran to her dying husband Kessler shot her too. Then he reached down and picked up the wedding ring off the floor that he had dropped. He put it into his pocket.

Capt. Hampton made a motion with his index finger in the video they were watching disappeared.

“I’m just going to skip forward a few minutes.”

The image between them reappeared in the right-hand corner the name Kessler indicated it was his video feed. He moved cautiously through the village shooting anyone not wearing a green military uniform.

“He’s gone off again” said a voice female over comms. In the bottom right-hand corner of the screen it indicated that Lieut. Hicks was speaking.

Another voice came over the comms. Her voice sounded concerned.

“This is Lieut. Whitman. I got a birds eye view of what’s going on down there. That sure doesn’t look like a mineral search to me. Please explain.”

“Were engaging hostiles” came the annoyed reply from Capt. Keesler.

“Weapon scan comes back negative for everybody not wearing a green uniform captain. Please advise.”

“They have weapons” Keesler yelled back angrily.

“Sir are you saying my scanning equipment is malfunctioning?” Asked the young woman floating 200 m above the ground in her shuttlecraft. A new voice came over the comms.

“Capt. we got about 200 people making an exit to the southwest on foot. There are about 300 m from dense jungle. Please advise.” The name on the bottom right-hand corner of the display indicated the speaker was Cpl. Pu.

“Posse up” yelled Keesler. They all ran back to their bikes.

“Level of engagement?” asked Cpl Pu.

“Lethal” came the loud voice of Keesler. He knelt down to take aim with his R17 before adding another kill to his count.

Commander Han and Captains Colfax and Hampton watch the video.

“It’s her first mission, sir” said Captain Hampton.

“Sir, that doesn’t count one damned bit. First mission, one hundredths, it doesn’t matter” said Colfax.

They watched as the soldiers mounted their bikes and began to move towards the open fields. A couple of them shot their weapons into the tiny wooden and corrugated metal shacks as they drove past.

“Please advise sir, these look to be women and children fleeing. Sir, I’ve got perfect visuals on the fleeing people you are starting to pursue. Please advise sir, they are women and children. Can you please confirm your lethal order sir. Scanners indicate…”

“I don’t give a damned what your scanners indicate, they are armed” replied Keesler.

“I’m sorry sir, my scanner indicate differently, sir. Use of lethal force against the unarmed civilians is a war crime, sir. I can look up the exact language and distribute it to all. Please advise.”

“They are not civilians” barked Keesler. “They are Polisario.”

“Please advise sir. What is the evidence?”

“Damn it, Whitlam. Shut up. That’s an order.”

“I’m sorry sir, could you repeat. Didn’t copy, sir, please repeat.”

“Shut your damned mouth.”

“Sorry sir, that’s not possible. Article Five is clear. I’ve just distributed the exact language of Article Five to everyone in the company.”

“You insolent bitch. Get that damned thing off our visuals.”

“But sir, to proceed will be a war crime.”

“I’ll have you shot for insubordination you little shit” yelled Keesler.

“Cameras down” Keesler yelled. Then his camera stopped. Then the camera of 19 others stopped also.

“Let me switch to Whitlam’s view” said Hampton.

“That’s causes prejudice in her favor” argued Colfax.

“I’m old enough to make allowances for this” said Han to Colfax coldly.

The image shifted to the ship hovering over the battle scene.

“I’m sorry sir” said the young woman.

She then executed a maneuver that was fluid and almost beautiful as the craft spun smoothly as it dropped from the sky. As it rotated eighteen muzzle barrels became exposed when the shiny metal covering them moved up. In less than three seconds, Lt. Whitlam had brought her craft down between the fleeing villagers and the her own advancing troops.

Lt. Whitlam flipped the perimiter button on the guns. They fired into the ground ahead of them forming the defensive line that would not be breached. Lt. Whitlam unbuckled from her pilot seat and got up. She checked her side arm, the Jirb 35 wasn’t that powerful but Whitlam was accurate with it. She went out the back of the ship and jumped down to the ground. She walked around to the front of her ship.

At a point less than a meter from the line set for her guns was a line of her fellow soldiers hoving off the ground on their bikes.

“Whitlam, you either turn your guns off or so help me I will make sure you die here today. Do I make myself clear” said Keesler.

“Regrettably you do” said Whitlam.

“Turn them off, that’s a damned order, bitch.”

“They are unarmed, sir.”

“Keesler raised his weapon. Whitlam drew hers.

“They are armed” he yelled at her.

“With what, sir?”

“An idea” he screamed at her. “They believe their minerals are their own. They’re not. We need them. We’ll take them.”

The bullet hit the Hero of the Asteroid Belt in the forehead. The top of his head went sailing like a Kennedy. He was dead before he ever aimed his gun and his final muscle contraction fired it wildly into the air as he fell.

Commmander Han never got to finish his cake. His birthday was ruined.

After a detailed inquiry and fifty eight days later Han was relieved of command and assigned to desk duty at Station Ilios for his final year. At least his wife was able to join him for most of the time.

Captain Colfax is now Colonel Colfax and is being fast tracked for further advancement.

Captain Hampton resigned from the service. All records of him stopped his last day in the service. When he walked out of the Fort Geelong he became a ghost.

Lt. Whitlam is serving a life sentence for murder in the maximum security military prison on Adlo Outer. She is held separate from the other prisoners, many of whom would kill the woman that killed a hero.

Her father’s petition now has over 100 billion signatures. But the directorship will not consider the Oxygen Amendment. Governor Whitlam threatened insurrection. He too is now in custody.