1400 GMT, 01 March 3152
Elementi, Capital of Logicus
“K’rok is a Homo Sapiens-Thanatan hybrid. Taller and thinner than Observare boys, he was subject to being bullied. When I first met him I made the diagnosis that he was emotionally unstable and had a learning disorder. I later discovered that these were camouflaging techniques, gene-coded so his enemies would underestimate him.”
Lon’ti, Futures Counselor,
Diverse Genetics School, Elementi
His body moved with perfect control, the heavy muscles in his legs bunching, then relaxing under tattered smart-cloth trousers as he jumped high, his left leg higher than his right, his short, thick torso twisting like the coiling of a spring, and then the spring uncoiled and he struck me, and even with the sting of the blow to my face I felt envy and marveled at the elegance of Observare control over his body as the harsh light from Logicus’s sun flickered through his moving limbs, as graceful as the desert cats that crept through the barrens beyond Elementi.
The fight was another humiliation, as life for me on Logicus was a series of daily humiliations, large and small, raining down on me like the terraforming ice that fell from the sky. I wasn’t allowed to go to school with the native Observare children because I was a lower mod; my special needs couldn’t be accommodated in their classes. I was grouped with the children of off world diplomats and kids whose genes had, well, not quite worked out. Observare looked at me with concealed pity and scorn when I walked the streets of Elementi. Oh, they were masters at controlling their emotions, the Observare, but stupid as I was I could still see the little down and up motion of their eyes, and slight movements of their wrist as they signaled disdain for my condition.
I was playing with some black glassy rocks and sand at the playground down the street from our home in Elementi, the capital city of Logicus, when the shadows of two other kids darkened the ground. Logicus’s hot, blue-white sun poured ultraviolet and infrared into chlorophyll engines in my skin. Data and Algorithm vendors crowded the street next to the park while shoppers browsed their wares with flashing holographic displays lighting up the air blue and pink in front of their faces. Machina skittered around and over the scene as they ran myriad errands for their employers. The Observare kids my age were playing the Game of Mazes, moving colored glass pieces around a shifting labyrinth; using rules based on abstract logic and chaos mathematics, mysteries my Thanatan hybrid mind.
The rocks I was playing with were there as decoration.
The shadows belonged to two other five year olds, F’rek and R’mek.
“Is that Vin’chi’s little moron?” F’rek pointed at me, the lightest trace of an Observare smirk on his face. This was theliterati bovi, the intellectual bullying that simmered underneath Observare culture and boiled the lower genomes like myself that were unfortunate enough to be stuck on Logicus. Starting with disapproving looks, gestures, and backhanded comments from the educators, and ending with playground despots like F’rek.
I was too slow to understand most Observare body language, but I understood the vulgar contempt in F’rek’s pose. A sharp black mountain outlined his scruffy grey smock as he shifted his body to an unarmed fighting stance. A shuttle lifted off a pad from the port three kilometers south of us, the sound dopplering from a high painful scream to booming freedom. Every day I listened to the shuttles crack through the sound barrier in Logicus’s thin atmosphere, whispering sounds of escape as they went to meet the sleek pluralis starships in orbit, mocking my genetic prison.
“The little monkey is playing with rocks. Hey K’rok, did you know you’re mostly monkey? You know what monkeys do? They roll their shit in little balls and play with it.”F’rek flicked a large piece of crap from someone’s pet bear at me. “Roll this in a ball and play with it.”
The black mountain behind him seemed to rise up as I crouched down. He shifted his body to kick me, and I threw the rock I had in my closed hand at his face, cutting his cheek. F’rek held his hand over his bleeding face and R’mek tried to punch me, but I quickly pivoted away from him. Then I lost my balance and went down. I felt the sting and shock of a smacked nose as R’mek kicked me in the head, and then started to stomp on me. I managed to get to my feet, then raised my foot up high and brought a sharp heel down on R’mek’s toes. Observare kids play advanced games but they scream just like n-mods when they’re in pain. The rare sound of an Observare child’s screams froze everyone at the park and on the street for a moment, and then I was grabbed by my nanny-Machina and hustled out of there, blood, tears, and snot running down my face.
Back to our house, we went. In the shadow of the Great Air Rim, its back to the West Wall Mountains, on the far side of the city from the tree of Slarock, on a corner of streets named after philosophers long dead, on the raised crater platform that the Logican Capital of Elementi sat in, lay the house where Vin’chi the terraforming engineer lived. My foster father.
Winning, I have found over the years, is not too clearly defined, especially when you end up worse off than before. There’s a story of a small country on Earth that beat a large one in a ten-year-long war in the twentieth century. The winner was rewarded with forty years of poverty, its citizens standing in knee deep shit, arguing with commissars about how much rice they picked. I have found this to be the case for my entire life; winning the battle wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, and losing sometimes didn’t end up as bad as you might think. Picking your battles, I guess, is the most important thing. But you have to fight for yourself, you have to. Even more importantly, you fight for your brothers. But I digress.
My foster father Vin’chi assumed the pose of stern discipline which I didn’t pick up on until later when I grasped the principals of Ratio Sinate. “Loss of control violates the core tenet of what we believe in.” His thick legs were splayed out in the heavy gravity of Logicus, an olive hand knotted with powerful tendons pointing to my bloody fists. I was thinner than he was, with my father’s genes, skin a bit lighter, bones thinner yet stronger. Yet even over all the years I remember Vin’chi’s bulk always moved with a certain powerful grace and presence.
I stood with unavoidable regret, the one pose I had down well. “I didn’t lose control. Nothing I did would have stopped them. They said I was a monkey. What did they mean?”
“It doesn’t mean anything. You lost control and acted like an n-mod,” Vin’chi said. The words stung, and I knew the punishment would be worse. Observare initial social reconditioning, the Ultio Solus, was fourteen days solitary confinement. Food was delivered by machina twice a day, and I also received some nourishment from the lights.
On my first night of the Ultio Solus I had a dream where my gene-father was still alive. We were on the beach as he showed me how he could throw my toy pluralis ship into the surf and it always came back on a wave. He was smiling in his uniform, but when I looked out to sea I saw this huge wave come up out of the ocean and I got this feeling of dread as all the people on the beach started screaming and running away. I looked for my father and he was gone, and I was left alone on the beach, waiting for the huge wall of water that I knew would drown me, but I was too dumb to move. The wall of water turned into the wall of rock that we called the Great Air Rim outside of Elementi, seen from Vin’chi’s study window. Vin’chi cried about the punishment that led to my lonely death in a little cell, “Forgive me K’rok, I’m a terrible father.” And then I dreamed that my long-dead gene-father came down from orbit in a huge pluralis cruiser, a dark arrow, kilometers-long, reentry flames lighting up the sleek black hull and railguns spitting cracking hypersonic kinetics that shredded Vin’chi and his little house.
After the fourth day of Ultio Solus I started screaming until I was hoarse. On the twelfth day I broke two fingers trying to pry the door open. I imagined Vin’chistanding there with all my Padeia classmates, projecting “We Miss You K’rok” banners everywhere as I stepped out of my ordeal, Vin’chi with tears in his eyes saying, “You’re the best son a man could hope to have.” But there was just Vin’chi when the door opened, standing in a black jumpsuit with cloak and hood.
I ran to him and hugged him hard and said, “I’m sorry.”
He waited a few seconds before pushing me away, “Control, K’rok. You must have control. We are not animals.”
I’m happy to say that the social reconditioning didn’t work on me at all.
The night I got out of reconditioning I had a dream where I was in a park with rolling green hills. I saw an ancient metal grill covering some kind of water repository and walked up to it. I saw something in the water and lifted the large hinged grill to see it better, lost my balance, and fell in. My clothes and boots were heavy and I sank to the bottom. The water was extremely clear and blue light filtered down from the surface, but it was shadowy dark at the bottom. My ancient clothes wouldn’t inflate to save me. I quickly took the ancient laced boots off and made it to the surface, but I couldn’t get the grill open and I was stuck underwater. I saw two kids from beneath the surface waving and shouting for help. Oddly enough it was F’rek and R’mek, the vicious little beasts that had gotten me into this mess. A uniformed and grey haired non-modified human opened the grate, reached down and pulled me out of the water. I would see him again.
* * *
Three years passed, and the differences between myself and the other Observare became more pronounced as I grew taller and thinner. I asked Vin’chi, “How did I get here?” I had just gotten home from the Diverse Genetics Padeia where I was in a special needs class with other non-Observare children, most of whom were from off-world. The Observare children nodded to each other and raised their noses ever so slightly when we walked by. The contempt was subtle and crushing.
A long pause, and Vin’chi slowly adopted the Ratio Sinate pose of reflection. The ventilator in the study quietly hummed and we fed off the ultraviolet from the interior lights. “This is something you won’t understand until you’re older,” Vin’chi said.
“Why can’t you tell me?” I asked. “You said we don’t have secrets in this house.”
“Control your tone.” He waited for a few seconds. “Everything that I do is for a reason, K’rok, and those reasons are for your own good.” He paused again. “I discovered the Thanatans had fashioned a weapon that was a threat to us and our allies.”
“What kind of weapon?” I asked.
Vin’chi’s thick greenish-brown arms rested on the chair’s arms and the cords in his forearms stood out like thick cables, organic muscles sharing space with his electrics.
“A bio-weapon. You.”
My heart jumped into my throat.
He continued, “The Thanatans are outcasts, and your father was a pluralis ship commander who fought the Thanatans. They respect fighting skill above all else, even among their enemies. Maybe especially their enemies. He beat one of their premier commanders in a ship-to-ship slugfest eighty years ago, during the Silence Wars.
“One of the Thanatan controlling families got hold of his DNA and synthesized a weaponized hybrid.”
“A Thanatan and n-mod gene-splice. Me,” I said.
“Correct. That was you. I went to Thanatos in a blockade runner and smuggled you out.”
I sat in the posture of Socratic questioning. “You went into Thanatan space?” I asked.
Vin’chi paused for a minute, and outside the hanging rhythm chimes rang up and down in a tune known only to the spring wind. “I had to. I served with your father. Although these motives sometimes run counter to Observare control, it was a matter of honor. I owed him my life, and the Thanatans’ use of his genes was a perversion of all we fought for.”
“So I’m part Thanatan,” I said.
“Yes, you are part Thanatan,” Vin’chi said. “And you also came from Mark West’s genes, a non-modified human from Earth.”
“And Thanatans are your enemy?” I asked.
“Mine, the Unites Systems, everyone’s. Enemies yes, but not always. Not always. The Thanatans came from here, from Logicus,” Vin’chi said.
“So they’re Observare? Why did they leave?” I asked.
“No, not Observare. They left because they didn’t want to become Observare. We called ourselves Logicans then, a cruel joke, as we were anything but logical. Our planet was crippled with war and strikes, crime and datastorms. All matter of irrational behavior occurred until the reformation. No, they left because they didn’t want to become Observare,” Vin’chi said. “They refused the path of reason.”
“And they made me,” I said.
“The son of S’alenia, the chief geneticist of the project, contacted me and asked me if I would take you out of there.”
In the background of his study a monotonous Observare newscaster droned on about an overpopulation of modded miniature polar bears on Earth, dumped into the wild by their owners three hundred years after the fad was over. Vin’chi listened in a pose of disgust then said, “S’alenia studied the methods that our geneticists used for gene splicing so you could be made with a mixture of specialized mental and physical attributes refined from your father’s natural abilities. I have a memory imprint from S’alenia that was given to me when I went to pick you up.” Vin’chi sent the memory to my implant and I closed my eyes.
I’m a coward, S’alenia thought. No, worse than that, an insane coward. Only a coward would work for these butchers and live like this and only a crazy person would turn against them.
A high whining sound echoed from a bulkhead in the gene lab, next to the sequencing machines, as the Internal Securitas machinas started drilling through the steel and carbon fiber wall. S’alenia had sealed the lab this morning when she had all the pieces together to implement her plan, and her confused colleagues had started calling her when they arrived to work. She thought of her son, Neeraas, and the years of sacrifice he had endured because she wasn’t in the Thanatan People’s Party. She looked at her reflection in the stainless steel medical cabinet; a gaunt face that was originally optimized for beauty and symmetry stared back at her with large eyes that had attracted her husband.
Ten years ago S’alenia had to tell Neeraas that the Supreme Council of Imperators had ordered his father killed because he objected to S’alenia’s involuntary role in the hybrid warrior project. “Your father was a brave man. He defended me against a group of thugs when no one else dared to argue with them.”
Neeraas said in the direct way that children have, “Then you are still alive because you are a sort of coward.”
How true and cutting his words were. The most honorable and decent man that this pathetically evil group of families could ever hope to produce is dead because I was too stupid to think that my research wouldn’t be weaponized and misused by these animals. Yes, Neeraas. I am a coward, but not for long.
S’alenia looked down at the child and thought of his father, Mark West. The dossier she had read about the man described someone a lot like her husband. She would make sure that this child would not be used to sustain this evil place. The whining of the machinas drilling turned into a deep roar as it got deeper into the wall. She heard the shouts of the Securitas organix as they readied their weapons.
Forgive me, little one. She took little West out of the incubator and injected him with nanites, looked at his clear blue eyes one last time, then flash froze him into a block of ice in the cryogenics tank with a bright blast of a stasis field. She turned the dissemblers loose on the five-kilo block of ice in the tank and they each cut out their assigned piece of the frozen child. A swarm of small transporters gobbled them up into tiny cold bellies to carry them on separate paths to Neeraas’s location. The drill from the machinas roared as it broke through the bulkhead.
By now you know that I am gone, and perhaps that is better than the months of uncertainty which you have been through.
I want you to know how strong you’ve been during this terrible time. You’ve never complained about how bad things were, and when victory comes, and the families fall, I know you will build your own family the way we should have been.
Thanatans are terrible about showing benevolent feelings, but our current struggle has revealed deep feelings of trust and pride I have for you as a son. I want to thank you for what you’ve done for my personal needs. No request has gone unfilled, and it made living through this time much easier knowing I had your full support, even if I didn’t show it.
The Silence Wars have shown me a vision where we can live as free men and women, where we can say and do as we wish. I might have lived many years as a slave, but I died a free woman. Don’t pity me for the price I have paid for that freedom.
This machina swarm holds the child I told you about. Put the swarm into a cryo tank by using the quantum reconstruction specs in the transporter that’s transmitting this message. If Internal Securitas catches up to you, you must destroy the child; he will be a terrible weapon in the wrong hands. Try to get him off world to the Observare. This transporter also holds his lineage and his technical specs. Make sure you give it to the Observare as well. Don’t think of me as gone. I put a lot of myself into little West; he’s my son also.
I opened my eyes slowly, making sure that Vin’chi couldn’t not see that I’d lost control again and my eyes were wet. After a minute I asked him, “What happened to my gene-father?”
He leaned forward and said, “That, nobody knows. After our time together in the first Silence War, we went our separate ways in the Stella Nautae. Your father went off with a research team to investigate high rates of supernovas in the Kyler sector after the end of the war. He was listed as missing in action, along with the crew of the vessel that he was lost with.”
* * *
Weeks later, I was pondering an essay I had to write about what sort of activities I did on my own. F’rek and R’mek, the bad kids of my neighborhood, liked to hunt the small desert animals around Elementi, an activity that was strictly forbidden by Observare law. Seen as primitive and cruel, hunting animals was an ancient pastime where young men would take weapons and go outside the bounds of settled areas to kill animals as trophies. All meat on Logicus was vatted, no actual animals were raised and killed in any Unites Systems culture, but there were rumors of primitive areas where such things occurred and the livdeo channels were full of shows where people hunted. I decided to put down that I liked to hunt small animals in the essay, because I wanted to be in the bad kids club that F’rek and R’mek were in. After I read the essay and shocked myself about the savagery of such an activity, I decided to tone it down a bit and wrote down that I liked to “hurt small animals.”
Mrs. Hetmonic, my inscripted composition teacher, pulled me out of class the next day and sent me down to the Future Counselor’s office where Vin’chi and Lon’ti the Machina counselor listened to why I listed that hobby in my composition. They just looked at me, Vin’chi with his dark, sun-shielded Observare corneas, and Lon’ti through Machina ocular sensors modified to express human compassion and, in this case, dismay. With her brow-like cleaning brushes narrowed and angled, she explained to me why that wasn’t an admirable hobby and sent me back to class.
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