Exiles’ Escape Prologue “First Hand Sapping”

Prologue

 

(Twenty-two months before the events of the first book)

Stanton, Pensy[1], Democratic Unity of America

Infinity Acres Retirement Community

Product Reclamation Floor

06.23.02.local_01_Jan_AU75[2] (2127 AD)

 

“Good morning, Ruuf. Tie one on last night, did you?”

“I musta had a good time, Gurry. Can’t remember half of it, ‘n’ Sheilah wouldn’t talk to me this morning.”

“You probably deserve it. Fecking stupid that the zoots even bother to have us come in.”

“How many we got cooking, anyway? Any chance of a light day?”

“We have only one induction, four maintenance, and three consolidations. Bravo twenty-seven smoked it overnight.”

“Only one start-off? Father me, I may yet survive the day!”

“You’re forgettin’, this is the day we start the new setup. The dose goes down to twenty-two on these guys. They say they get more geeks out of the process, but we have to keep fecking new records and do vids.”

“Thrilling. What do you want to start with?” said Ruuf as he donned his padded suit and fishbowl helmet. He grabbed up a two-meter pole with padded jaws on one end and moved to a line of gleaming stainless-steel doors that lined a wall.

“Bravo twenty.”

A stainless-steel door swung open. Ignoring the stench and dodging the flung feces, Ruuf waited for a chance and then slipped the jaws of his capture pole around the Sisi’s throat before dragging the creature into the light. Immediately, Gurry pounced on the naked old man with a section of metal grid, pinning him, face down, to the floor. Ruff released his grip and retrieved the Sapp-gun. Gurry’s tattoo gun snapped once as the man’s arm came up to protect his face.

“Number 201000A-01_01_AU75. New Sapp[3] dose, zero point two two mils of hundred gigaparticles per mil per meter squared times 1.73 square meter yields zero point three eight mils. Check the math, and here you go, Gur. Ready to boogie.”

“Check, Ruuf. Good to go.”

There was a nearly noiseless pop just before the screaming started. Within minutes, Gurry released the man as he subsided into whimpers, moans, and guttural nonsense sounds. From the ranks of stainless-steel cages, a wave of hoots, harangues, and a few shouts of “Wait till I write my congressman,” erupted. Ruuf shoveled the old man back into his cage as Gurry, looking at his tablet, started to laugh.

“Says here that guy was a professor of English. Wonder who needs to be taught their own language?”

“Beats me. Probably smart. Think he’ll rise within the ranks, then?”

“Depends on whether he can still talk in a week, don’t it?”

“Tea?”

“Yeah, sure. They’ll be quieter when we get back.”

As they left the room, each put on a uniform hat. Instead of the usual DUFS[4] uniform cover, each black hat bore a death’s head insignia.

 

 

[1] After the Glorious Revolution, many place names in the Democratic Unity were simplified.

[2] Unity date-time convention: hour.min.sec.time zone (GMT= zulu, local, EST, CST, etc.)_day_month_year (in Annum Unita = AD-2151). A timeline is available in the Appendix.

[3] Unfamiliar terms may be referenced in the Appendix. Sapp is the agent used by the Unity to turn their excess population into compliant foot soldiers.

[4] Democratic Unity Forces for Security. As posse commitatus has been repealed, all policing and military functions have been combined under the DUFS.

NB Decided to remove this from the MS for publication. This will probably never see the light of day other than this blog but it does pre-sage some of the events in later books.

Jesse Goes to See- Excerpt from Book Two of OMAI

Jesse Goes to See

New Union Station, Saint Louis, RSA

Mid-Morning, July 8, 2129 (AU78)

It might be a promotion but it sure felt like a “get-the-hell-out-of-town” card, no matter how they gussied it up. He had to stop by Marlow-White to get his new oak leaf insignia, adding one more small irritation in a week complicated by bad dreams, hot weather, and an assassination attempt. Being made a major did give him some juice to treat with the locals, if he needed to, he admitted. After bundling his government-issue duffle into the train coach, Jesse boarded as early as he could, hoping to sleep on the way down—sleep, and not dream.

The night of his poisoning, after he lost consciousness, the dreams came, harrowing images: a grotesque apparition, a moldering corpse, rushed at him from the shadows with arms outthrust to embrace him. Slashing the horror with a dream saber, he had lopped off its head, only to discover, when he picked it up, that he held Malila’s head, a look of betrayal on her face. They got worse from there. After struggling up the deep well of darkness to consciousness, the first thing he saw was Gage Thomas.

“I told them docs that they were wasting scarce resources on you, Jess. That as soon as you were well enough, I was gonna kill you with my bare hands. A green-as-grass neophyte wouldn’t have let himself get poisoned so easy!”

Jesse groaned and rolled over to vomit. Hours later they were able to talk.

“Ye seem to be enjoyin’ my discomfiture, boss,” Jesse said, barely able to recognize the voice as his own.

“And, you seemed to be enjoying the hallucinations, from what the corpsmen told me.”

“A few. Ainelie healthy t’ing to do with ’em. Any idea how they got t’ me? And who? And, for Pete’s sake, why?‍

“You’ve got an abrasion on the back of your left hand. Tests positive for something like Sarin. Already found the mailbox. Neighbor said the young guy had come to work on it was a stranger.”

Jesse ran a hand over the bandaged site and winced before give a short bitter laugh.

“Oldie but a goody, eh? Pretty clever, when you think about it. No messy collateral damage and the hit man didn’t have to do anything up-close and personal. So who and why?”

Who is a good question. You have your choice of several flavors: the Unity, the Syntopians, or …” he said before he drifted to the window, separated the blinds and looked out.

“Seriously? I haven’t heard about the Syntopians since I was in school. Are they still around? The last time I checked, they’d pretty much dwindled to a few oddballs who thought you could catch religion from Ageplay.”

“They have dwindled,” said Thomas, turning to look at Jesse again. “But the ones left over are pretty rabid. They keep on issuing fatwahs about how you’re some kind of walking dead, sucking their humanity away to make yourself older. As they get more marginalized, they’re getting more weird. More like some secret society now. No one knows who’s in it or runs it.”

“Okay. A ‘Last Gasp Syndrome’, but surely the Unity’s got no agents inside America. They’d stand out like sore thumbs.”

“Possibly. We haven’t discovered any agents in thirty some years. If they’re here they’re in tall grass and doin’ a good job of it. However, they’re now aware you’re accessible, not some myth. They may try to take you out as a morale booster for them.”

“Not sure the Unity works that way. ‘Or who?’ You were going to add a third, weren’t you?”

General Gage looked out the hospital window again with his back to the old man for several long seconds before again looking back to Jesse.

“Us, the army. I think you’ve some real enemies in the regulars.”

“When did I rain on their parade?” said Jesse before lying back and looking up at the ceiling, clenching his hands on the white coverlet.

“I think some find having an authentic ‘frontier warrior’ in their midst lacks appeal. You’ve already done what they’re saying they want to do, and you’ve done it longer, more often and with fewer resources. They’d be delighted to sing your praises … at your funeral,” Thomas said slowly, emphasizing each word.

“Doesn’t that kinda put you in the middle? Crazy colonels will do what they will do, but all the irregulars are under your command, at least officially.”

“New days are coming, Jess. They’re talking about regular army patrols in force on the frontier, with good air defenses. Move up to to the Rampart and start bio-converting all the plant life. They need me around for my frontier contacts, but that doesn’t stop them from looking close at the irregulars. Reuben Alexander was arrested today. Say they’re going to court martial him — ‘conduct unbecoming.’ Smart money says he’ll get two years in Leavenworth.”

“So they’re trying to get to you through us. Reuben’s a mean old cuss and a half, but whatever he did was to make the frontier safer for real live people. ‘Course, he has the next ninety years to get the bad taste out of his mouth. The army’s alienating as good a fighter as America has in Reuben. He just might not come running the next time the regulars get their fat in the fire, like he did at Cleveland. That said, I don’t think even crazy colonels try to assassinate their own citizens.”

“I’m not going to set up the experiment for you, Jess. I have a way to get you away for a while.”

“Thought you might,” said Jesse and lay back to see what Gage had concocted.

 

That had been only yesterday. Officially, he would be discharged from the hospital tomorrow morning. Unofficially he had been smuggled out the back in porter’s clothes pushing a gurney covered to look like a body. People either fled or looked intently at the shrouded shape, but never at the gurney driver.

On time, the train gave a lurch before pulling out of New Union Station. Jesse’s view out his window showed the inevitable rail cuts. Here the local communities maintained the concrete canvasses that lined the cuts, vying with each other to add local flavor for passing trains. Even the commercial center had a colorful mural by an artist partial to bounteous women with wholly inadequate clothing allowances. Lafayette Square, The Gate, Tiffany, Botanical, and all the others, came in with colorful and quirky reminders of what was going on in the city outside the right-of-way. It was not until the train curved south to cross the Meremec that Jesse could see open country. Fields, showing the odd verdigris of new growth, patchworked together unnatural greens, oranges and reds. New strains had been developed to deal with the Scorching and their foreign hues disturbed him now as they always did. The bad old days of pellagra and kwashiorkor, were gone, even if he had to get used to new shades of vegetables.

He chuckled.

A young mother with two toddlers whom she had only just gotten to quiet down for the trip looked over at him uncertainly. The old man nodded and smiled at her and was rewarded by the oldest girl standing to stare at him in toothy wonder. Farmers were smarter now than before the Scorching. America could feed itself even with a large chunk of its hinterland rendered useless. The new strains were tolerant but less generous. Farmers and land had come into short supply. America, unwillingly, had become more agrarian, again.

The little girl was chubby, confident and healthy. It felt good to see the change. She reminded him of Ethan, of Sally … and of Malila: the hovering protective joy of the young mother. Malila would have been a good mother.

Jesse shook his head. Now, they would never have that conversation.

You, old man, are guilty of romantic hallucinations in the first degree, he thought. They had spent weeks together, alone. He had seen Malila at her worse: scared, angry, hateful, cold and near death. She had seen him stumbling, bruised, scabrous, and demented with the scurvy. And yet they had never talked about important things: what music she liked, what she thought about having kids, how she felt about his beliefs, her beliefs. Now it was too late. He remembered her scent, the scent of her after she washed and was with him under the sleeping furs trying to warm up before she could drift off. Every night it had taken a good deal of effort to let her sleep.

He looked out again at the fields until he droused, as the car filled at each stop. Even so, the seats were generous enough. He nodded off, sleeping the rest of the way down to the coast. He was still muzzy, lugging his duffel to a cab as he set out for the docks.

Jesse’s ID badge got him in the gate. His orders got him to the docking facilities, but it took all his native diplomacy to shift a taciturn Marine sergeant into getting him admitted to the gangway. Saluting the colors, he asked permission to come aboard from a young ensign with a prematurely fierce scowl. Returning Jesse’s salute, the ensign assigned a man to move his duffel to a cabin and sent another to escort him to the bridge.

Jesse was led down several decks from the entry port. Men moved deliberately and efficiently along the slightly canted decks with barely a word or gesture as they passed. Jesse’s escort “made a hole” for him to follow at speed. Even so their progress was slow enough for Jesse to appreciate the elan the crew demonstrated: fit, confident and competent. Finally Jesse was presented at a companionway guarded by one more Marine before being admitted to the bridge.

“Johnstone, Jesse A., Major RSA, Volunteers, reporting for duty as per orders, sir!”

Under the glare of artificial lights and computer screens, Jesse recognized a frowning Rear Admiral Patricia Tillman, RSAN. She seemed to have been stretched at some previous moment of her life and to have only recoiled reluctantly and incompletely. She wore rimless glasses, giving her the air more of a scholar than a sailor. Turning to another senior officer, who was watching the proceedings below through long binoculars, she said, “Captain Hake this is our supernumerary, Dr. Johnstone.”

Despite his obvious distractions, the shorter robust coffee-colored officer turned, smiled and offered a hand to Jesse.

“Pleased to meetcha, Doc. Andrew Hake, captain. You’re the last of our chicks to make it. I hope we can show you a thing or two while you’re onboard.”

“Thanks, Captain, I’ll try to stay out of the way as much as I can. You look busy.”

“Yep, we cast off in ten minutes; you nearly got left ashore.”

“Time and tide, I understand.” Jesse smiled.

“Stand over there if you want to observe. We’re going to be busy until we clear the harbor.”

Jesse went to the indicated small space behind the hatchway that gave him a good view through the large slanting portholes. Hake immersed himself again in his observations, at intervals barking short concise orders that were seconded by his staff and enacted by the yeomen at control consoles that reminded Jesse of a mechanized saddle. The old man watched as the lines were singled up by the automated shore crew.

“Cast off, forward.”

“Cast off, aft.”

The bridge was silent. Slowly at first, the ship gathered weigh … rising several hundred feet into the air. Jesse could hear the turbines cut in along the huge hull, far above him. The RSAN Illinois, newest and largest airship ever built, was aloft in defense of her country.

steampunk-airship-army

Floating out over Algiers Island and then the marshy hinterland of the delta, the Illinois gather speed. The Mississippi river, making and remaking its course over the centuries had, in its most recent evolution, succeeded in its siege of New Orleans, leaving as a remnant only the area surrounding Orleans Island Air Navy Base. New Orleans proper had retreated uphill to Baton Rouge.

Captain Hake motioned to Jesse.

“Most of the excitement is over for a while. This is a shakedown cruise so we’ll be running drills and exercises over the next few weeks. For now though, you might want to find your cabin and get stowed away.”

“Aye, aye, Captain. I shall leave you to it.”

New Excerpt from Book Two Hierarchs Awake

Hierarchs Awake

Syntopian Chapter Room, RSA 

7:30 PM May 21,2129 (AU 78)

The Agnomen was back. It was whispered among the students. Obliquely referenced among the teaching assistants. Murmured among the assistant professors but talked about only among the tenured, and only some of them. The man had returned.

The college building was old, older than any of the students or faculty, tracing its origins to the romanticized days of the mid-twentieth century, over a hundred years before. Then, it was prudent to have safe rooms in case of some never-realized attack. The rooms became an embarrassment, speaking as they did to naivite and paranoia. Then the rooms became an open secret, available for illicit assignations, prompting the college provost to seal them.

140722043109-coolest-bookstores-10-library-el-ateneo-circular-roof-super-169

Finally the rooms were neglected, forgotten and eventually reborn as the chapter house for the Mother Chapter of the Honorable Order of Syntopia. Mother, as it happened, was barren. All her children had died as stillborns or young infants. Very few wept at her loss. Mother was a bitch.

The HOS imagined itself an over-arching bulwark of rationality against the inundation of rogue science, unproveable religious faith, and misplaced trust in the rump of the American experiment. Inexplicable to the faithful, over the years it had dwindled to a handful of academics at one university, in one city of the Restructured States of America.

It’s long term goal was to sweep away all opposition to a reunited America and to appeal for immediate annexation by the triumphant Democratic Unity.

The short term goal was rather more modest: kill the Agnomen, Jesse Aaron Johnstone.

Initially, it was a matter of practical science.

They had identified the rejunenating agent to be similar to the one producing Jacob-Creutzfeld, Mad-Cow, or Scrapie. The only unusual quality of the agent was that it was non-replicating in humans except in the original index case, the Agnomen himself. If only they had killed the boy back then, the world would not have changed.

A gray-haired and vigorous man approached the hidden chapter room. He waited for the requisite forty-five seconds before inputting the code into the virtual holographic keypad that appeared to float in front of the wall after the correct hand gesture. A nearly indecernible door slide open and he entered a well appointed high-ceilinged room, lined with books, littered with comfortable leather chairs and sporting a single and somewhat soiled banner across the faux-fireplace announcing: “Synthesis- the Only Rational Way.”

Another figure already occupied a chair in the well-appointed secret room under the Women’s Studies wing of the venerable Mondale Building. The figure smoked a large cigar, sipped a small bourbon and read a day-old Post Dispatch. Without looking away, it spoke to the newcomer, “You’ve heard, no doubt, that the Agnomen has returned from exile.”

“A self-imposed one. He thinks Saint Louis is too hot and humid, Benny.” The first man went to a cadenza and got himself a sherry before sitting at the other side of the fireplace. He sighed, “The Synthesis views this with deep suspicion. Why now? It’s not as if he has any business coming back to civilization. People don’t seem to grasp the potential danger he represents.”

Benny waved his cigar idly, wreathing himself in smoke before speaking,“Harry, to most he’s just a Midway freak! ‘See the Amazing Elderly Man!’ Today, the Ageplay agent is synthed by every vaccine company in the nation. You have to say this for Alyssa Browne, she was open-handed. Probably didn’t make a dime on Ageplay.”

“You sound like one of those religious nut-cases, Benny. Ageplay is already playing havoc with society. There hasn’t been an opening for a full professor in decades. Some of those people even say it’s the healing hand of their god. Jesse Browne needs a little divine retribution.”

“Johnstone, Alyssa married that Scotch guy, Johnstone, but point well taken. Not sure it matters anymore.”

“Scots, not Scotch. A scot is a man and a Scotch is a drink. How can you say it ‘doesn’t matter?’”

“The man has been the Agnomen for so long in absentia that when he shows up, literally within our grasp, the Synthesis has to disband in disgrace. Jesse Johnstone, by his very presence in Saint Louis, destroys the Synthesis.”

“You make it sound so inevitable, Benny. And, no, the Agnomen must be seen to be mortal. At seventy-six, he’s younger than the average life expectancy before Browne got started. His death from apparent natural causes will put the lie to Ageplay.”

“I see you are, as usual, way ahead of the rest of us. Don’t tell me anymore. So the old man is finally going to die?”

“The old man will die.”

New Excerpt from Book TWO of Old Men and Infidels

Edie (650)

The openCORE, The Unity

04.41.17.local_01_July_AU78 (2129AD)

She had figured out her name. A fragment of memory … just a fleeting slice … had shown her the face of Malila: short, dark, straight hair framing steady blue eyes in an oval face with a smattering of freckles. Malila was frightened, but resolute, running on heart and adrenaline … and Malila loved her.

The glimpse of Malila voiced to her: “<E.D.[1]> off.” It had been Malila’s last words to her. It was strange she should cherish that memory, she thought.

Her name was Edie.

She could see now. At least, she had decided to label what she perceived as “sight.” In the past, when she had been with Malila, she had been able to see through her eyes as well as her own.

She felt around herself with the sensations listed in her memories.

That helped a lot. She found that her job in the CORE was to translate for Malila the input to a shared understanding of what the CORE contained. Malila was gone. Her yawning absence hurt, like a lost limb. Edie still could not taste or smell. She had an impression that when she had sensed movement, items appeared bigger and smaller over time. Even so, without any other sense to compare it to, it was just a surmise. Edie’s sight, the sensations she called sight, dimmed and brightened as she waited, was sonorous or brilliant, gave her the sensation of weightless falling or, when she thought she might be moving … pain. She retreated. The painful seeing stopped.

She was getting better at being alone but that was mostly because she had gotten better at remembering Malila. Now, the now that was all she had, she had recovered a library of memories about Malila, her changing voice and appearance over the years. Having never talked with anyone else it was hard to know what kind of a person Malila was until Edie found the transcripts.

She really had no better name for them … had been different from the memories of Malila. In them, the transcripts, Edie had been mute, unable to talk to Malila. She had seen and heard her but had no power to interact with Malila. It had been wrenching. That’s when Edie had seen the old man. He had a word attached to his image, his shape, his scent, his sound: Jesse. Edie could remember Malila’s revulsion at his touch. Unguided by Edie, Malila made mistakes but she also learned. At the time it had made Edie sad. Malila was learning a hostile yet beautiful country without her—without needing her. They had grown up together and now Malila had moved beyond her.vidMalila

Despite that, Edie had become entranced with the wildness of the outlands, the new skills and experiences of Malila and the character of Jesse. Impossibly old, cruel, harsh, skillful, funny, and wise, caring and tender, Jesse had opened a new chapter in Malila’s life only to have it slammed shut again. Their final misunderstanding was an open wound for Malila, and for Edie.

Malila, Edie’s only confidente, her only link, her only friend, the only reason for Edie’s very existence, had made such a huge mistake with the old man. Even Edie could see it. Eventually Malila had seen it, as well. Jesse, in his odd, noble, perverse way had wanted to protect Malila from his own society. He wanted to share pleasure sex with her but had chosen to forgo that in the absence of that “marrying” thing. The strange old man wanted to do things in the “right” order. It was just like the man to decide pleasure sex was something he had to do “right.” Insufferable. Honorable and insufferable. Malila loved him.

 

 

[1] Educational device

Excerpt from Book 2 “Exile’s Escape”

From Rough Draft of OMAI Book 2, working title Exile’s Escape

Jesse Johnstone, frontiersman, physician, man-killer and the first of the “old ones,” after years in the Scorch, has come back to Saint Louis and stayed at the behest of his commander and long-time friend, Gage Thomas, despite the dangers. As their hated Agnomen, the Synopians are vowed to Jesse’s death, seemingly from natural causes.

Jesse & Snake (500)

Environs of Tower Park, Saint Louis, RSA

12:05 AM July 6, 2129 (AU78)

In the darkness, the old man gave a shout, the bed erupting in legs, arms, pillows, and sheets. Sitting up, his fist clutched around the throat of a light blanket, the old man stopped, shook his head and looked at the time, floating a foot above his bedside table, invisible until it sensed his motion. He released his death grip on the bedclothes and, naked, swung his feet to the floor, stood, and shrugged into a tatty plaid bathrobe.

That was different! Jesse thought

At least Malila was not trying to die in this dream.

Instead it had been a frightening kaleidoscope of hideous colors and obscure menace, crowded with serpents arched to strike, fangs dripping venom.

Jesse walked out into the sitting room, hearing the noise that passes for urban quietude beyond the windows. He took down the bottle on the mantel and splashed a wee dram into his orange juice glass before sitting. He could feel his heart still racing, his face yet burning from the dream.

A sensation of disquiet, untethered and unnamed, pervaded him. The disquiet became dread as he watched the faux grape vine that wound around the wooden pilaster next to the fireplace slowly resolve into a serpent.

The reptile, a violent green with scarlet diamonds along its back unwound itself almost gently from the painted pillar before it focused its unblinking stare upon Jesse and began to slither along the floor toward him.

Let’s not act crazy, old man, Jesse heard himself think. Not a real snake. Can’t be a real snake.

The serpent paused and lost focus, winding itself into a seething coil of loops. It again turned to Jesse, unwound and slithered nearer.

snake2Heart pounding as if to beat its way out of his heaving chest, Jesse felt his tongue plastered to the roof of his mouth, choking a cry for help. Terror, like a flame, burst into a blaze within him, as the cool dry beaded skin of the snake wound around his ankle and begin to ascend his leg, disappearing from view briefly before gliding into his lap. It coiled briefly before once more slithering toward Jesse’s left arm. The snake, heavy, gaudy, cool and muscular, twined around his arm. Fascinated, Jesse watched his arm begin to mimic the slow swaying contortions of the snake as if under its control. The pain surprised him, wrenching muscular cramps moving up and down his arm as he watched the snake make his own flesh dance.

Not a real snake. Not a real snake.

The serpent halted and regarded its own body before it started to morph into the brown, gray and black of a diamondback rattler, the body thickening, becoming more substantive and menacing. Giving its tail a small shake to turn the last few scales from scarlet to brown, it turned to look at Jesse.

“Overplayed your hand there, Figment,” Jesse said, gritting his teeth as he reached for his comm device.

The snake, seeming to shrug, evaporated.

They found him there, writhing uncontrollably on the floor, delirious, and unresponsive, repeating the same phrase:

“… red beet, dry bone, hot poker, mad hat, red beet, dry bone …”

There was little they could do.