LEARNING TO FLY – BOOK I

LEARNING TO FLY

{a post-apocalyptic homo/hetero-social/sexual love story with zombies and shit}
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Copyright 2010, Christopher C. Knall
409 University Avenue SE, Minneapolis MN 55414-1790

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CONTENTS

BOOK I – GENE POOL

Chapter 1 – Aron

Chapter 2 – The Doc

Chapter 3 – Minister King

Chapter 4 – Minerva

Chapter 5 – Dona

Chapter 6 – Mel

Chapter 7 – Aporon

Chapter 8 – Spider

Chapter 9 – Mr. Stone

Chapter 10 – Barby

Chapter 11 – Ken

BOOK II – ABOVE THE PLANET

BOOK III – ROUGH BEASTS
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For no one in particular.
For the “dirty dozen” from the north, who braved the road and kicked ass, and the creature they saved.
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BOOK I – GENE POOL
 
 
 
 
 

 

Chapter 1: Aron

“Thou hast bewitched my daughter, and thou art
a villain.”
—Simonides,
Pericles, Prince of Tyre,
Act II, scene v

“Youth is wasted on the young.”
—George Bernard Shaw

“What a dipshit.”
—Aron

Aron pretended to read the TwenCen graphic novel, which in turn was stuck inside a textbook (Transmission Electron Microscopy, 3rd edition) which, on another level, he was also pretending to read. In fact, he had read ten pages of the first one hundred seventy-six assigned him by the Doc as homework, but his mind kept wandering. After an hour of re-reading the introduction, he stuck the old comic inside and attempted to switch modes from education to entertainment.

He was vaguely aware that the comic was about some bald guy who owned a two-headed cat and cursed a lot at everyone and everything. However, if the plot or meaning of the book was known to him, his backseat-driving unconscious mind was not bothering to inform the conscious driver up front what it was.

Instead, Aron had one thing on his mind: sex. Or was it romance? He often confused the two, if there was in fact a difference in the Enclave at Bear Butte. Surviving was the name of the game for Aron and his fellow community members, so romance was a luxury and sex was something usually determined by someone else for purposes of controlled breeding and population control, or something most everyone did with Aporon (AKA “Mr. Man-Whore,” as Aron thought of him).

Aron still recalled the very serious conversation that the Doc, Minerva, Minister King and Dona had with him about his possible future fatherhood. The entire Council sat him down and spelled out the birds and the bees and the entire experience had forced him into a second shower that day while at the same time leaving what he thought of as long-lasting psychological scars. He knew that was an exaggeration, but it was fun to think of it that way.

Like God, St. Peter and a pair of angels, the Council one at a time (rather delicately really) explained that Aron might have to do his part toward re-population. Therefore, it was under serious discussion that Aron might at some point be paired with Barby.

The Doc explained how choosing complementary genes could help increase the odds of a healthy baby and therefore a more robust future for the Enclave. Being a little over sixty people all told, the place would not survive forever without expansion, but food supplies, etc., etc., etc., blah-blah-blah…

Aron was stunned by the idea that he might have to—or was it get to?—bang Barby for the greater good. She was physically perfect. As the Doc spoke, Aron’s mind drifted to her long blond hair and perfect breasts. This in turn triggered all sorts of involuntary responses. His heart raced, palms began sweating, and he dared not stand anytime soon lest the Council see the tent that just went up in the front of his pants. He thought he felt a little more going on, and, red-faced, tried to concentrate on what the Doc was saying before anything more spilled out. He shuddered briefly.

Minister King spoke next, reminding Aron of some piece of propaganda he’d heard many times before. He didn’t really hear it, though, due to the rush of blood to his head. He simply looked at Minister King, and wondered why so many people were afraid of him. Aron only saw the kindness in his face, his soft brown reassuring eyes, and nodded, as if, of course, it was his duty to boff the most voluptuous woman he’d ever seen.

Dona chimed in that if he had any questions about what to do, she would be happy to explain and even assist when the time came. This only made his biological plight more dire.

Minerva, who often both delighted and frightened Aron due to her uncanny ability to voice what he was thinking whenever they interacted, finished up by reminding him that this might be years away. Besides, there were questions as to whether the two remaining B.O.R.N. project survivors, Barby and Ken, should or even could reproduce, and if so, perhaps it should be with each other.

This piece of wisdom calmed Aron down enough to allow him to stand without undue discomfort once the meeting was over. The bulge in his pants subsided for the moment. Good ‘ol Minerva to the rescue again!

Glancing up from two unread books and dismissing memories of Council-inspired sexual fantasy, Aron saw Ken working out on the Olympius-ZX45 weight machine. Ken had just finished running on the treadmill for the third time today (it would be the last, if he stuck to his routine, which he always did). Now it was time for his squats.

The routine was interrupted by the arrival of Mel, mailman and biotronics geek. Blue-skinned Mel. The Doc had once explained to Aron in great detail just why Mel had bluish skin, how the pigments had changed, etc. What it boiled down to was silver poisoning. Not harmful in other ways, but it could cause a change in skin color, as it had in Mel, and even change the whites of one’s eyes blue over time. How and why Mel had been exposed to so much silver dust was anyone’s guess. Mel didn’t talk about it.

Mel handed Ken a roll of drawings. Some new wood project for Ken, no doubt. Everyone did double duty in Bear Butte. Aron’s other job apart from desking the gym was flying scouting missions over the surrounding area in the Enclave’s solar plane, the Solar Flare. Ken was hunter and carpenter (though as hunter, he had on occasion had to play soldier as well).

The gym was decorated with some of Ken’s work: wooden plaques with dead animal heads glued on them (or were they nailed on? Aron didn’t know). Each animal had been killed by Ken, and there was an odd assortment. There was only one rabbit, for example, but one plaque had what Aron assumed was an entire family of prairie dogs.

Unfortunately, Ken’s expertise did not yet extend to taxidermy. The prairie dogs (five in all) in particular were evidence of this. The heads were so bizarre as to fly over macabre at Mach III and land squarely in the land of absurdly humorous. Aron found this even more hilarious because, as far as anyone could tell, Ken had no sense of humor whatsoever. The genetic project that Ken and Barby had been a part of had removed it, or simply prevented him from developing one. Somehow, the Doc had surmised, this was related to removing remorse along with it. Ken also seemed to lack that for anything he had killed.

It was worth noting, however, that while Ken never smiled, Barby had a creepy, semi-permanent grin pasted on her face. Apparently, whoever designed the pair was either sexist or had a twisted sense of humor. If it weren’t for the smile and the sort of phony happy Barby exhibited, Aron would have been even more gung ho about banging her, you know, for the good of the community.

Aron had given the prairie dogs names. See-No-Evil (it’s eyelids, if there was even anything behind them, were closed tight) was top and near center, or as Aron thought of it, due North. Smile-Real-Big (it’s skin stretched so badly, all of it’s teeth showed) was at N-by-NE. Sneezy (it’s nose was turned up like it needed to) was SE on the plaque. The Mange (this one lacked hair in a bad way. It appeared burnt off. Had Ken used a rocket launcher or a grenade on the prairie dogs?) was W-by-SW. Finally, Head-On-Collision (this one’s skull was misshapen as though Ken had simply squished its head with his bare hand or somehow whacked it really hard with a hammer) was at NW.

Ken’s latest addition, just last week, was a porcupine. When Aron asked Ken why he had killed a porcupine, Ken just thought for a moment (as if it never occurred to him to wonder why). Then he replied as seriously as inhumanly possible, “Never tasted one before.” As if that were a sense-making explanation!

Ken unrolled the plans that Mel left for him against a nearby mirrored wall and looked at them. Aron glanced down when Ken looked toward him in the mirror dispassionately as always. Then Ken looked over the plans for a moment and rolled them back up carefully, Then he left the gym and walked toward his woodworking shop.

Aron returned to reading and decided on the textbook. It would be another fifteen minutes before gunfire, screams and alarms would be the second interruption to Aron’s day.

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Chapter 2: The Doc

“If the cat will after kind,
So be sure will Rosalind…
He that sweetest rose will find
Must find love’s prick and Rosalind.”
—Touchstone,
As You Like It,
Act III, scene ii

“Everywhere I go I find that a poet has been there before me.”
—Sigmund Freud

Musa acuminata is a great source for potassium and vitamins B6 and C”.
—The Doc

The Doc absentmindedly pulled the frozen banana from it niche in the freezer, not noticing its close proximity to vials with labels such as SPERM – APORON, SPERM – KEN, SPERM – MEL, and so forth. Space was at a premium and economy of scale the motto, so even appliances sometimes pulled double duty.

The data from Aron’s latest sortie only confused matters where water foul population was concerned. Mel’s computer (that is, the AI system he set up, procured by Mr. Stone) had extrapolated various populations and divided them into subgroups such as, MALLARDS AND OTHER PADDLE DUCKS, GOLDENEYES AND OTHER DIVING DUCKS, and CANDADIAN GEESE AND MISC. WATERFOUL from hires video, photos and IR scans. The cameras on the Solar Flare did the grunt work and once transferred to the AI, the AI spat out information about what it was the Flare had been looking at.

They had the process was down to, well, a science. Aron barely had to do anything except keep an eye on the controls, talk to Spider back on the ground, and press the abort button (well, was a little more complicated than that) if the weather started looking inclement. The cameras on the Flare’s wingtips and belly took care of the rest, and the onboard computer handled the flight plan as well as take-off and landing. Aron was light at only about 73.5 kilograms, give or take (the Doc had insisted on switching to the metric system, something All-the-King’s-Men couldn’t accomplish before the Expocalypse) which meant the plane could fly longer and further with him babysitting it than, for example, Spider.

It was all in order to plan out the food supply for now and for the future. Ken performed similar tasks where deer and other edible mammals were concerned, and Mel, Spider, and whichever of the mechanics could otherwise get away would on occasion go fishing and drop a few probes to see how many fish there were in a given area. Planning the growth and population allowances within a safe margin of error required hard data.

Except today the data somewhere must be wrong. A problem with the model perhaps? The Doc supposed that was still a possibility even though he, Mel, and Minerva had worked many a long night into the wee hours of the morning double-checking, second-guessing and then reverting, fixing and tweaking, scrapping and rebuilding the very same model that indicated the highly unlikely right now. There were far too many birds in the area.

If it wasn’t the model, then it must be some unknown variable. Something external? Something driving the birds toward Bear Butte? If so, what? Fire? Then where was the smoke? Hunters? No sign of others since the five (now two still living) B.O.R.N.s had walked into town armed to the teeth. It would take a very large army to drive so many birds so quickly.

“Shit!”

The Doc nearly dropped the banana. Even though he knew the explanation was scientific: his shoes, through contact with the carpet in his office, caused a buildup of an eletrostatic charge, that due to the insulatory feature of the soles at the bottom of his feet, whenever Heracles swirled about one calf or the other (sometimes somehow managing to hit both simultaneously!) causing the difference in polarity to equalize, it never failed to surprise him.

“Goddam cat.”

He set the banana on a nearby ashtray (he had little other use for it), and picked up the tabby, or, as he referred to him in times like this, felinae interruptus. He stroked Heracles between the ears and turned his attention to the tails side of the coin: procreation.

“If you want to solve a problem, forget about it, eh?” he purred in the cat’s left ear. The response was a quick flick of same.

He punched up the file on the B.O.R.N. project again with his other hand, trying to understand for the nth time whether or not Ken and Barby could conceive, and if so, whether or not it was a good idea. The file (also obtained by Mr. Stone by means he kept to himself) was heavily redacted.

Ken (a label given to him by some midlevel bureaucrat with a sense of humor or without a clue) was the product of genetic engineering. His mother, the wife of an Army major, had a stillborn child the year before Ken was born. Private sector scientists took Ken’s deceased older brother (it had been a boy) and created Ken, painstakingly tweaking a gene here, splicing biocode there.

The result was at first oddly unsatisfying. For the first twenty years of his life, Ken (as the Major’s second child, though he had little to do with his conception) seemed a very normal child. The senior VP of the corp that did the splicing was heart-broken (and subsequently pushed out by the next rising star, corporate natural selection doing its thing), the brass were pissed, and so the company lost their contract. Such was life under the bear-, bull- and shark-dominated Wall Street world of Before.

Then, just four-and-a-half months after his twentieth birthday, Ken “awakened.” He attended school at a small college in Oklahoma, and, after a test in German class, took the entire class hostage at gunpoint. He proceeded to ask each student in turn the questions on the test. Those who got the answer correct got to walk—or more likely, run—out of the room.

Those who did not, did not.

Because Ken gave each student a full sixty seconds to answer each question, he was only twelve students in (score: four walking, eight for body bags) when the Army arrived. Apparently there was still some sort of watchful eye somewhere nearby, some contingency plan just in case Ken became “interesting”, and it actually worked. Special Forces, with orders to capture/not kill, managed to incapacitate Ken. The matter was resolved publicly as mass murder-suicide, the surviving classmates given full scholarships, and a warning that Ken might escape at any time, for silence.

Four years of intense combat and survival training later found Ken an optimal soldier. Unfortunately for the Army, it was only a half dozen years later when the shit hit the fan and global war became local once again, people more concerned with what was happening in their virtual back and literal front yards than what was happening far away where there was nothing they could do to help and from which no one was coming to help them. Civil war, due to poverty, famine and disease, ate away at the foundations of power and the pillars fell. Unpredictable weather patterns, population growth, and pollution wreaked havoc on the food supply. Financial problems, that in the end no one truly understood, ravaged communities that on the surface didn’t even seem remotely connected to the market sector failures that ruined them. Finally, virii evolved faster than vaccines, faster than hospitals and clinics (operating part-time, typically on generator power or none at all due to financial woes) could distribute them.

Indomitably gregarious, Spider’s outgoing nature and non-assuming sense of humor kept him from seeming a threat to any of the five killing machines when they walked into town. Spider was able to convince them to sit down and chat with Dona, Minerva and eventually the Doc. Though the Doc was mostly harmless, his height and intellect sometimes intimidated strangers, especially the reactionary sort.

Barby’s story was similar to Ken’s, but there were differences. Her mother died giving re-birth to her thanks to a stillborn older sister, but Barby’s proclivities toward callousness and lack of remorse were apparent from a young age. One Sunday while she was home alone the family dog peed on the carpet. Barby removed the offending organ with a dull pair of child’s safety scissors after duct taping the animal to the kitchen table. The dog did not survive.

Additionally, her brother, four years her elder, was a hyperactive with Down’s syndrome. At age seven, Barby—literally—nailed one of his feet to the floor. This was a clue to all that therapy due to the dog incident had probably been ineffective.

At his wit’s end, her father (a USMC staff sergeant) gave her over to the Navy’s psych ward who were all too happy to receive her and pass her on to some other department where she grew up. They taught her to kill and survive.

She was emotionally limited, like Ken, but whereas Ken never laughed (he did on occasion smile, just barely, when he making a tricky kill shot or performing some other difficult task) nor showed any emotion save a quiet intense anger in combat situations, Barby had a mad nanny’s smile and voice to match, all the time. It’s tone  was both joyous and unnerving simultaneously. The new and improved Barny had loads of patience, however. No more nailed feet or canine castrations after the adjustment. Barby loved kids. Her frustration with her mentally-challenged sibling and wetting pet seemed completely wiped from her personality.

How they managed to implement these behavior modifications was an unanswered question in the file. Neuro-inhibitors? False memories? Reward-punishment conditioning? It was probably somewhere in the redacted sections, the blackened lines running sometimes for an entire dozen pages at a time like a great black anaconda swimming along the surface of the Amazon. That’s just how things were in spook country.

The Doc would continue to play virtual-mix-and-match-gene-splicing cupid for another fourteen minutes before being interrupted again, this time by a population-reducing vector he had ignored for too long.

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Chapter 3: Minister King

“For naught so vile that on the earth doth live,
But to the earth some special good doth give;
Nor aught so good but, strained from that fair use,
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse.”
—Friar Laurence,
Romeo and Juliet,
Act II, scene iii

“Gott ist tot.”
—Friedrich Nietsche

“God is love… and fear.”
—Minister King

Minister King stroked his neatly trimmed brown beard as he searched the thesaurus in his head for just the right word. The gesture was not out of vanity, though he had a refined appearance. No, Minister King was not vain; he was deliberate. He understood the importance and the limits of authority, and accepting the burden of having to look his best as often as possible for the good of the community.

As Minister of Information (or ‘Databank’ as his good friend the Doctor referred to him in private), he was responsible for explaining the decisions that the Council came to, for anticipating questions or grievances resulting from same, and preparing the community for change, whether that change came in the form of boon or hardship. Essentially, he was press secretary, reporter and newspaper editor rolled into one.

This morning’s first task, however, didn’t quite fit into any of those categories. Today, he had to explain why Aporon would only receive a slap on the wrist for his lewd behavior the previous evening whereas most anyone else would find a heavier punishment. Euphemistically referred to as “Golden Boy” by not only the Council but everyone by-and-large due to his near-perfect physique, his ample blond hair which he kept in place to the point of an OCD, and his suntanned skin that practically glowed, Aporon had overstepped good sense and sobriety by, not raping—there was no rape!—but becoming far too forward with a woman and a man trying to enjoy a little alone time of their own.

Aporon was not a bad sort, he meant well, but he had an appetite for competition and sexual conquest that belied some deep-rooted insecurity; a psychological yang to his physical yin. If he and Barbie were horses, they’d have been bred over a year ago, or he with one of the other female B.O.R.N.s, no longer “with the community”.

King shuddered recalling the loss of the other five genetic “super people.” In each case, something had set them off and the results were deadly to some innocent bystanders, except in one case where Ken had killed Sven before he could pull the trigger of the pistol he had pointed at a pregnant woman. She miscarried anyway, due to some birth defect according to Dona, but Ken had reacted on an instinctual level. Debriefing revealed that Ken felt nothing more for the mother and fetus than his former hunting companion when he stuck the sharp end of the claw hammer into his brains.

That entire episode, plus the two Barby killed, the other one by Ken and one by Aporon himself had been a pain in the Minister’s posterior that—

“Aha!”

The Minister could use the fallen hero narrative, The Enclave itself put too much pressure on Aporon, had set its expectations too high, and he was cracking under the pressure. Couldn’t they see their way to treating the man who saved them from rampaging Len (“Len the Bull”, as he was known due to his rather large, thick neck and flaring nostrils) by treating him like everyone else? Perhaps even just a bit less better. That would be punishment enough for Golden Boy. But only a little; the Enclave needed their soldiers brave and undeterred.

Yes, that would do. Who the hell knew? It might even be true.

In thirteen minutes Minister King would have far more to do, including comforting the grieving.

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Chapter 4: Minerva

“Les ongles? Nous les appelons de nailes.”
—Alice,
The Life of King Henry the Fifth,
Act III, scene iv

“To the uneducated, an A is just three sticks.”
—A. A. Milne

“Pop quiz!
—Minerva

“Hello, Kiwako. I am pleased to eat—I mean, meet, you,” said the bear. “Do not be afraid. I am Liwanu. Than means ‘growling bear.’ I growl not because I am hungry, no. Food is plentiful in Bear Butte.”

The simulator, run by an AI, inserted a pause here in the conversation in the expectation that the ten to twelve crowd would giggle. The bear hologram swatted at a fly absentmindedly and scratched an ear as if to remember what it was trying to say, that the character, the virtual actor, was lost in its own thought process.

“I was sleepy some moons ago, as I lay in a briar patch. My back itched, so I rolled in the thorns to scratch it. Bear fur is thick,” the bear image turned to show off his coat. Broken vines with needles three inches long we matted in it.

“But when I lay down to gaze up at the stars, these thorn needles you see, they stab me, and I cannot rest as I once did. Without sleep, I am one crabby bear.”

This time the bear paused for dramatic effect, narrowing its eyes in a predatory grimace before continuing.

“Have you the courage and the kindness of spirit to remove my curse?”

Minerva paused the simulator there to takes some notes in preparation for the morning’s class. She would ask the children what Kiwako, the main character in all of this year’s lessons, should do.

Teaching was one-quarter preparation and three-quarters theater. Thanks to Mel’s skills with biotronics, most of the latter was off-loaded to some very small electronic paths, very few silicon chips, and some gels that handled the heavy loads. The entire setup could learn from feedback during the simulations and from asking key questions after each class, which Minerva was more than happy to provide the answers to. The thing learned and proved it daily though the use of its holographic projector.

Mel, with the help of the Head of Security—the mysterious and enigmatic Mr. Stone—had acquired five of the three-dimensional projectors. One went to the school, one to the Council for meetings calling for visual aid, one in the Main Hall for presentations to the community as a whole, one in reserve in one of the others went down, and one Mel got to keep for personal use.

Minerva got along with pretty much everyone (though she had a TwenCen zero-tolerance policy for bullying, in school and everywhere else). Mel was no exception, despite his many idiosyncrasies.

Still, they had a long, exceedingly tiring, argument—no, it was a debate… civil but emotionally draining. It was about the physical characteristics of the primary educational avatar: Kiwako.

America had come a long way in some ways since Dick, Jane and Spot in terms of educational science even though before the Expocalypse the average reading level was dropping steadily nationwide. So, how should the Enclave’s official protagonist of learning appear and behave?

Mel’s first draft (though he blamed the AI) looked like a horny Japanese banker’s idea of sex kitten. Overly large breasts (a variable percentage of which showed between unused buttons at the top of her partially open school uniform blouse), virtual-collagen-enhanced lips, too much makeup, and gaudy pink nails. Her rear end interestingly enough more resembled a boy’s than a girl’s.

Minerva tried not to judge, but more than that, she tired not to imagine what Mel did with his simulator in the privacy of his office/home. Poor, blue-skinned bastard with a dirty mind he might be, but he was also a sweetheart. Mel was always willing to help anyone when they needed his help and sometimes even when they didn’t.

He was also closer to Stone than anyone else. The Head of Security seemed to be more of a watcher and documenter than a preventer of problems. On the rare occasions when Mr. Stone inserted himself with the happenings in the community, there was often an after discussion in the Council as to whether it wouldn’t have been better if he had just stayed out of things. That was the general consensus: that there always seemed to be a bittersweet after taste to his involvement; helpful and yet painful at the same time.

For example, when one of the B.O.R.N.s went berserk, he alerted Aporon immediately, which probably saved a dozen people from Len’s rampage. However, Aporon was never the same after taking the man’s life. Minerva could tell that something deep inside the boy died that day as well. He had, too, been a sweetheart and now was becoming a self-absorbed sex maniac, belligerent and nearly fearless of authority and peril. That would seem to amount to a death wish. But psych was Dona’s bailiwick for the most part, and Minerva had mentioned it and was certain Dona took it to heart.

Why hadn’t Stone alerted Ken or Barbie instead?

Her mind returned to the business at hand. She needed to tweak the number of briars that Kiwako would eventually pull from the bear’s back (math), adjust the conversation to include some simple meteorological, geological and biological terms (science), drop a few more Japanese and Ojibwe words into the dialog to build vocabulary and be sure that the simulator would put a button (a lesson wrap-up) on the whole day’s narrative. Bravery and kindness were virtues. How to sum that up?

Now, if only the compromised version of Kiwako (the seventh) had breasts that weren’t quite so perky she’d feel more comfortable. Maybe Mel was right that it could keep boys’ attention better this way with just an innocent hint of eroticism. In a community looking to increase its population, that might not be a bad lesson after all.

A mere dozen minutes from now, school would be closed for several days due to a community in fear and despair.

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Chapter 5: Dona

“O day! O day! O hateful day!
Never was seen so black a day as this.
O woeful day, o woeful day!”
—Nurse,
Romeo and Juliet,
Act IV, scene v

“The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature curse the disease.”
—Voltaire

“Breathe. Breathe. Push!”
—Dona

“He’s got hem-a-roids!” said the eye, brow, and cheek at the upper right corner of the screen. Spider glanced to his left and the floating eye moved out of camera range.

“Thank you, Tomas. I’m sure Spider is more than capa—” Dona began.

“Dona… Is there something I can take?” Spider interjected. The result was an outburst of laughter from somewhere in the background, echoing througout the hangar where he worked.

“Spider, go see the Doc. I’ll alert him to what you need and he’ll explain how to use it.”

“Pills?”

“Sort of… goes in the other end and dissolves.”

Spider swallowed hard, “Thanks.”

The uproar of laughter was cut off this time as the senior mechanic and the Enclave’s only air traffic controller ended the connection on the vidphone.

“Poor man,” Dona said aloud.

Realizing that talking to herself was just fine up to the point of answering herself, Dona thought silently. Though MPD had long ago been removed from the APA’s DSM, Dona and the Doc agreed that it was essentially a survival technique created by the unconscious.

Canines separated from their packs in the wild exhibited behaviors indicating they imagined the other pack members’ presence. Somehow, believing that there was at least one other “ally” allowed them to function as normally as they could despite a serious lack of ability to bring down larger prey solo.

Dona often wondered if Heracles, when he appeared to be chasing and attacking nothing at all, wasn’t exhibiting similar behavior even if it was faux prey and not a pseudo-ally the cat had in mind. Apparently, instinct confounded found an outlet even if it was an imaginary one.

Dona turned her attention back to the task was engaged in before Spider called regarding his problem: that of playing matchmaker.

Given the limited gene pool at the Enclave, and the goal of repopulating the area in a controlled and cautious manner, balanced with food supply and a myriad of other factors (housing, expansion, school capacity, work availability, to name a few) exactly whose babies can and should come when was a key question. Avoiding inbreeding and its porential for birth defects for future generations was a goal.

Even knowing the skills, strengths, and personalities of the parents or gene donors was no guarantee of success. The AI had its suggestions both for the natural way and gene-splicing involving same-sex couples to increase diversity. The latter was not actually possible given the equipment available to the Enclave and would be risky for a fetus even it if were. Known experiments with mammals of that sort did not have a high degree of success. But the Doc had asked Stone to see if he could locate the necessary equipment and once that was done, to start figuring out how to get it to Bear Butte. When it came to finding something, Mr. Stone had never failed, but like a genie in tales of old, sometimes a wish was granted was not all that one had in mind when the wish was given.

Arranged alphabetically, te AI listed Aporon and Aron with a score of 72.6 (one of the highest) as a match for producing a healthy, productive member of society. On the one hand it had a point. Combining Aron’s smarts, grace and visual acuity with Aporon’s physical appearance, prowess, competitve spirit and courage could result in a wonder girl or boy.

The flip side, of course, would be if instead he or she inherited Aron’s laziness and Aporon’s self-absorbtion and promiscuity. If the resulting adult also got Aporon’s looks, there would soon be a glut of arrogant little do-nothings laying about except for eating and reproducing, dragging the Enclave
down under simple demand outwieghing supply.

Why couldn’t the AI see that possibility?

Further down the report, Ken and Barby were the only higher score, at 82.9.

Again, the AI seemed to be missing some of the risks and variables. Ken was, as far as anyone knew, a virgin. Could he even perform? If so, with Barby?

More disconcerting though was the ramifications of a Barby pregnancy. The hormonal balance was what made her such an excellent bodyguard and soldier. She was protective—to a fault—of those she bonded with. She could kill anyone who tried to harm a child under her care, and in fact had done so twice. What might her attachment to a child she had herself be? Would the hormonal changes from the pregnancy unbalance her, resulting in another B.O.R.N. going berserk in a violent frenzy?

Dona and the other Council members were all thinking it, but none would say it aloud: perhaps Barby should be sedated and bound for the latter trimesters until the baby is born or taken C-section. Survival butted up against principles each Council member held dear; it was a conundrum.

In eleven minutes the underlying data of the reports would be outdated and require running again with even fewer variables for the AI to consider. Dona would be busy deciding who to save and who to let bleed to death moving up from matchmaker to God herself.

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Chapter 6: Mel

“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.
Coral is far more red than her lips red.”
—William Shakespeare,
Sonnet 130
 
 “Love is 2 minutes and 52 seconds of squelching noises.”
—Johnny Rotten
“No more missiles! Silos…yesss…silos…”
—Mel

“Ohhh…Mela…Mela…you are so naughtyful!” 

“Just show me one, Kiwa. My little Kiwako.”

“Okay. But must promise not to tell father.”

The hologram of Kiwako 1.0 unfastened one button as Mel licked the sweat off of his blue-tinged upper lip. Then he jumped nearly out of his chair.

“Mel. Need you to deliver a message.”

Kiwako’s head was replaced by that of Mr. Stone, which had just spoken.

“Two? In one day?”

“This is an easy one,” Stone spoke with the soft tones of a priest comforting the dying or the bereaved. “And fun. Need you to pass something on to Barby.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Tell her, ‘It’s high time to get crackin’.”

“‘High time to get cracking.’ Got it.”

“No, you don’t.” Stone let out a quiet short laugh that more resembled a cough.

“‘IT’S high time,’ and ‘crackin””—he emphasized the ‘n’—“no ‘g’.”

“‘It’s high time to get crackin’. Got it.”

“Good. When you’re done with that you can get back to testing the AI.”

Stone grinned at that and then the entire room went completely dark. When Kiwako reappeared, she looked upset and was buttoning up her blouse to the top.

“Must go home. Mother will worry,” she pouted and then scampered away into nothingness.

“How the fuck does he do that?”

In ten minutes, Mel would be back here re-running the simulation.

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Chapter 7: Aporon

“O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown.”
—Ophelia,
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,
Act III, scene i
   

“A pint of sweat saves a gallon of blood.”
—George S. Patton
   

“I can do that…better even.”
—Aporon
   

Perfect symmetry. Each golden arm, veins, tendons and muscle rippling and working, no body fat to speak of, no scars, pumped with controlled precision. Aporon thought of himself as a machine.

No, a god.

No, more than a god: he was Adonis, Zeus and Thor all rolled into one.

People liked to look at him, men and women alike, and he was fine with that. Opening onself up to same-sex or, better yet, one of each gender at the same time, well that made life all the more interesting. Besides, it would be unfair to only share his body with only half of Bear Butte. Adonis would never be so narrow-minded.

Like Zeus, his fellow soldiers listened to his every command and carried them out as if his word were divine. He was a natural born leader. They respected him—and feared him—because he was confident. Some on occasion dared say arrogant, but someone who worked as hard at perfection as Aporon had no need to inflate his abilities.

Enemies quickly learned what it was to face lightning and thunder. Any weapon he’d been trained on he continued to work, practice and train with until he was the best of his crew in its use. He was one with whatever tool was at hand, whether it was steel or flesh. In the moment of battle or the heat of passion, the sum was greater than its parts.

What was wrong with Aron that he couldn’t see that? Apart from the young pilot, only Ken seemed less interested, but Minister King had explained that Ken was…like…brain-damaged. He wasn’t much impressed by anything, and Aporon noted he had not put the moves on anyone in the Enclave, which supported the Minister’s explanation.

But Aron…young, but not so young he shouldn’t be knocking Aporon’s door down to get a piece. Couldn’t he see that the most incredible person in the entire community was right in front of him, sweating in beauty, straining in agony, and working for the ecstasy the was being offered to him if he’d just put down that fucking textbook and look.

Maybe that was it…maybe Aron was too smart…like the Doc.

Aporon took a short walk to the mirror and flexed, glancing at Aron in the reflection. No reaction.

“Gonna go take a shower now,” he said while stretching and touching himself, an old favorite seductive symphony of gesture and voice inflection.

“See ya, Mr. Man.”

The red color in Aporon’s cheeks deepened just a bit as he headed toward the shower with dark fantasy in mind. Why was it whenever Aron called him that, he felt like he was leaving something out?

Aporon would still be drying off in the locker room nine minutes later, when his battle prowess would be sorely needed elsewhere.

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Chapter 8: Spider

“These clothes are good enough
to drink in, and so these boots too.
An they be not, let them hang
themselves in their own straps.”
—Sir Toby Belch
Twelfth Night,
Act I, scene iii

“Shoot the fucking cellist. Pompous cunt with his oversized violin.”
—Adam Lennard,
“The Sleep Talking Man”
http://sleeptalkinman.blogspot.com *

 

“Keep ‘er five cupids AGL, your feet dry, your head out o’ the goo, and it’s all sweet!”
—Spider
 

Spider scratched his black, bald, tatooed head as he waited for the Doc to pop out of his lab and into the waiting room. He was glad that the Qromeo (the name he gave the Solar Flare, which was really the model, not the actual name, based on its call letters: N671QR or, as he made Aron say it on the radio, November-Six-Seven-One-Quebec-Romeo) was down for maintenance for the next few days. Given his single—dammit, it was just one!—pain in his ass, he was nit feeling clear-headed enough to put the pilot at greater risk over a physical ailment.

Aron was the salt of the earth as far as Spider was concerned, but the old USN air traffic controller understood that emotions, even love or compassion, could get in the way of thinking clearly and result in the kid going down with the plane in an emergency.

“Here we are,” the Doc handed Spider a couple of small white plastic sheets with various elongated egg-shaped bubbles in it. “Pills,” except he already knew they weren’t intended for his mouth.

“Um…any side-effects I should be concerned about?” he asked the Doc who was writing something down in his small black notebook.

“Hm. Possibility of allergic reactions.”

The Doc looked up, as if noticing Spider for the first time and stared at his scalp.

“Do you shave your head?”

“Oh, no. Was on a nuclear air carrier a dozen years or thereabouts. Radiation got my hair. Navy doc said I’m sterile too.”

“Good.”

“Come again?”

“Since you have no hair, you needn’t worry about your hair follicles swelling up, resulting in hairloss. Just come see me if your anus swells shut. And stop using the medication if it does. Some allergy meds will fix you right up.”

Spider just stared.

“Not to worry,” the Doc patted him on the shoulder, “these are very rare reactions. Odds are greatly against any such thing happening.”

Spider thanked him and headed home, somehwere private to take care of his problem, though he wondered if it would have been better to keep both his mouth and his ass shut.

In eight minutes, he’d be taking a nap and sleep right through the slaughter about to unfold.

* Quote used with permission.

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Chapter 9: Mr. Stone

“Being done unknown,
I should have found it afterwards well done,
But must condemn it now. Desist and drink.”
—Pompey
Antony and Cleopatra,
Act II, scene vii
   

“We face an enemy who believes one of his chief weapons is that none but he will employ terror. But we will turn terror against him…”
—General William “Wild Bill” Donovan
   

“There are no accidents.”
—Mr. Stone
   

Stone finished reviewing his unredacted copy of the B.O.R.N. file. It contained many details that the copy he’d provided the Council did not. For example, the full report contained medical history and genetic blueprints for Ken, Barby, and the other deceased, failed experiements.

It also contained their “programmed” safe words (implanted false memories that induce serenity after an unfortunate incident in a military testing facility resulting in several deaths and the firing—euphemism for assassination in this case—of the fool who the corp sent to conduct the presentation) and the phrases that would set them loose. They had the leash and that which would let slip the dogs of war, resulting in the destruction of whatever was in front of them when they went apeshit.

Stone had run his own breeding reports and he preferred his analysis to that the Council had coaxed out of their third-tier AI. Stone and the top-of-the-line artificial brain had plans of their own. Social engineering required a single vision, unwavering, cold logic without human weakness getting in the way.

Soon, the Enclave would have no choice but to implement what Stone knew was best, and without his direct involvement for the most part. He didn’t (or rarely did) have to even twitch a digitus quartus.

He closed the report with a flick of his right wrist and brought up the Enclave surveillance cameras with his left. The AI came with brainwave detectors and Stone knew how to talk to it.

There was Mel on #11 making his way to Barby. Stone waited for them to close distance, then panned and zoomed to closeups on both of them to see the conversation. He brought up the volume by what probably would seem to an outsider as magic and tuned out the background noise of community bustle in the early morning.

Mel did precisely as he was asked then spared a single backwards glance at Barby’s exquisite posterior. Stone didn’t begrudge him that small pleasure. Mel, like everyone else, had his way of coping, but Stone’s was unique.

He zoomed one camera to an extreme close-up on Barby’s face and focused another on a waist-up shot. She was directing the children to school.

She wore her sunglasses as always. Stone could see it now. A small droplet of moisture ran down one cheek. On the other camera he could see the smallest tremor in her left hand.

He switched cameras to Ken in his shop. He rang the hunter/carpenter. It wouldn’t do to send a messenger for this part. No, Stone would start this top spinning on his own.

When hell was unleashed in a few moments, Stone would watch it all, safe in his cosy hole in the ground. Being God was a tough job, but someone had to fill the Old Bastard’s shoes.

“Hello.”

“Hello, Ken,” he began in his soothing tone that might remind some of a computer from a moving picture from a half a century ago, “I have a message for you. Now, listen very carefully…”

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Chapter 10: Barby

“She bows her heel, the new-sprung flower to smell,
Comparing it to her Adonis’ breath,
And says within her bosom I shall dwell,
Since he himself is reft from her by death..”
—William Shakespeare
Venus and Adonis
   

“An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy.”
—Spanish Proverb
   

“Don’t cry. It’s going to be okay.”
—Barby

“Xuzie! Careful now. Here, hold my hand and we’ll cross together. Hm?”

Barby walked the eight-year-old redheaded girl across the street even though there was no motor traffic to speak of. Even when there was a vehicle, it was nearly always a battery-powered golfcartlike thing, moving slowly delivering something or, even more rarely here, someone who could not walk on their own. Minister King made sure people understoood the importance of exercise, so walking was the shit.

Delivering Xuzie to the perfect spot to wait for class, Barby now called two boys over to wait beside Xuzie.

“Bryen! Wen! Over here, darlings. Ha, ha.”

Barby had a natural excitement and positive attitude that made people want to do what she asked. The fact that she was also gorgeous by any measure was often secondary to her bright personality. The fact that she also carried a shotgun, semi-automatic pistol, mace and a billyclub was even more typically tertiary.

“C’mon, you guys! No hesitation. ‘He who hesitates is lost,’ remember? Ha!”

Her cute laugh always got the boys and some of the girls blushing.

Minerva stuck her head out the school window, “Just a few more minutes, Barby. Then we can let the children in.”

“No prob, teach! Ha, ha, ha!” she fired back.

Barby spotted four other children down by the corner, apprently reluctant to go to school because they were hiding behind Mel’s burrito stand.

“It’s too early for burritos, little monkeys,” this time the laugh was even longer and she brought the four of them over by the hand and lined them up with with the first three.

“Where are the rest of the kids, Minerva?” she shouted at the open window.

Minerva did not answer.

Barby saw Ken coming toward her. There was something in his expression she found troubling.

“Ken?”

He said nothing, but walked closer, slowly and steadily.

“Ken, I’m busy right now, Hon. Can it wait?”

Silently, he walked right up to her and took her face gently in his hands. He leaned in, almost close enough for a kiss.

“Ken…Ken, I love you so much it hurts.”

There was a sharp crack as Ken twisted her head nearly a perfect one hundred eighty degrees, a move so fast it approached the cartoonish.

The bloodshed had begun but Barby didn’t seem to notice.

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Chapter 11: Ken

“When my dimensions are as well compact,
My mind as generous, and my shape as true,
As honest madam’s issue?”
—Edmund,
King Lear,
Act I, scene ii

“I too look forward to that day, confident that—as always—there will be no unforeseen side-effects or catastrophic consquences.”
—Peter Watts

“Tastes like chicken.”
—Ken

A few moments before breaking Barby’s neck, Ken carefully hung up the leather work apron on a wooden peg. He then picked up a perfectly folded rag and wiped the sawdust from his shoes. Apparently satisfied that the last remnants of his woodworking had been removed from his clothing, he washed his hands—twice—once with stain and paint remover and finally with an anti-bacterial containing an aloe add-in.

He went to the workbench to examine his completed task. The toy house, painted white with red trim on the window shutters, front door and under the overhanging roof would be a mansion at full scale, but at this size it was something Ken could carry easily and did not take as long to build as a full, real house would. The paint was still a litle wet.

Stone had been emphatic that it be completed this morning for school and delivered as soon as possible.

Ken slid the house carefully over to the edge of the workbench and picked it up gingerly from underneath so as not to smear the paint. He carried it over to the door and balanced it on one hand, closing the shop door with the free one.

When at last he turned the corner and looked toward his destination, he stopped in his tracks. He surveyed the area carefully from a crouch while unconcsciously setting down the dollhouse.

Six school children lay dead and dying, carefully lined up next to each other in what, had they been standing instead of laying on the sidewalk, would be a perfect single file line.

Ken saw Minerva pop her head up for a split second, glancing toward the other corner. He also noticed three bulletholes in the wired glass and stucco exterior.

Looking in the same direction as Minerva, Ken saw the cause: Barby was dragging a seventh child by the hand, this one still alive.

Barby muttered under her breath to the boy, “That’ll teach you to touch yourself in the shower, won’t it, Bilny?”

She placed the boy next to the others and looked up at the window where Minerva had peeked before.

“Where are the rest of the little fuckers, you cunt?!?” Barby shouted at the air inside.

Ken took a step toward her. She turned and looked at him.

“Fuck me, Ken.”

She let her hair down and ripped her shirt off. Then she pulled at the tabs of her bullet-resistant vest, and it fell to the ground. Finally, she unclasped and dangled and twirled her bra from the ring finger of her unarmed hand. It spun off her finger and the same hand grabbed one of her naked, full breasts.

“C’mon and fuck my brains out, Ken.”

He moved toward her steadily and stopped just centimeters away. Her free hand moved from her breast into the front of her pants.

“I said, ‘fuck me,’ you goddam limpdick cocksucker. Fuck me in all my holes, faggot!”

Ken gently took her face in his hands and leaned in to get the proper leverage. Then he twisted hard and fast. Barby crumpled to the ground like a ragdoll.

Ken walked back to the miniature home he had built and checked it for damage. Satisfied it was unharmed, he carried it over and laid it down next to Xuzie’s head, the little one at front of the line.

As Ken walked back to his shop, he hardly noticed Dona rushing forth to deliver first aid and triage. The Doc also passed him further down the street without a glance exchanged.

Ken returned to the shop and began sweeping up the sawdust and scratching at a paint drip where he had gotten a little sloppy earlier in his haste. As he wiped at the spot, it suddenly occurred to him that he hadn’t considered putting Barby’s head on the gym wall.

As he once again washed his hands, he did not seem to consciously notice that they were not shaking, nor that his eyes were not teary. If deep down somewhere he did notice, he didn’t seem to find those details odd.

 

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