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Different Times (Installment 6)


Over the English Channel, the weather calms but the fog is thick. In his seat on the air-train, Louis spies a group of sky-freighters slicing the clouds below. They promptly vanish into the gloom as he wonders if they are carrying aneutronic reactors to New Paris.

Several rows away, Kojak dozes and as usual, Star is combing the Integration for any hint that the AI's are aware of their activities.

"No natural has ever killed an immortal," Myra says. She is opposite Louis, discomfort etches her brow.

Louis knows that Waterloo Station is next. It should be quick, he hopes. He’ll say goodbye then. Myra can go her own way and they will do what they came to do. The goal is to stay alive long enough to do it. And Louis has no intention of dying. Not after having gotten this far.

"He wants to talk," Myra continues.


"Who do you think? Father. You killed his collectors.”

Louis’ calm exterior is practiced but beneath the surface, her words conjure memories he has long buried…

He’s nineteen. A soldier in Old Paris. Long before they called them the slums. The Wolf Pack—five that morning—is out before the false dawn. New Paris is asleep and the energy dome is its sick somnolent green. The pale glow of it smears the stars. Soon the projected sun—the Great Torch as it is humorously nicknamed—will rise and the dome will turn blue. The unreal day and perfect weather inside the dome is a reminder to the slummers beyond the walls, that ‘once upon a time’ did exist. Now, it's 'once upon this hell.'

One must be new human or augment to enjoy such amenities--to live under the dome. Louis thinks on that. Generations of human endeavor usurped by the Party. A Party emboldened by their subservient AI’s and bent on their own immortality. Conscience has no home in a world like this.

In stark contrast, Old Paris is a hive of activity. Even now, the slummers begin to organize. Foraging is next. They crowd just below the surface of the ruins. Upon false rise, those nearest the inner city dome will bath in the warmth of the Great Torch as the projected ball of light climbs the dome, until it arcs away. Afterward, the slummers, most naturals, will collect the waste blocks ejected into the Seine from the refuse ports of New Paris. It’s treacherous work, made worse by the garbage-strewn ice and decaying flotsam. This is no river. It's a sewer.

From his perch in the ruins of the old business district, Louis watches the refuse ports. Blocks the size of ancient buses crash into the polluted river and float away. Soon the blocks will host a bevy of miners. The miners will swing picks and pry with shovels. Once the hauling spikes are in, ropes will be attached and hordes of slum-workers will begin the arduous task of hauling the blocks through the muck laden river. On the opposite shore, the final task is to comb through every last piece of refuse. Anything usable is saved. The rest is hauled away to reinforce the bulwarks against invaders.

Louis knows but refuses to admit, that most of their artificial protein comes from the waste blocks of New Paris. The blocks are also an important food source.

Now it's past false twilight. The green dome changes to a bleak red. The Wolf-Pack huddles near the exit ramp to the Underground, when the call comes. The blue-heads are out early. They’ve been spotted near Crematorium of Père Lachaise. Time to kill.

Louis is fresh from training, eager, but untested. Hand-to-hand combat is theory, not reality. But he knows how important this is. To secure the best food supplies divvied out by the sympathizers is crucial. The blue-heads threaten that security. They focus their incursions not on the laborious refuse blocks but on the food boxes deposited by the sympathizers. The crate-sized bundles are life lines, stuffed not only with nutritious meal packs, but medicines, power packs, and other vital supplies.

But on his very first day, something changes. Unexpected guests arrive. New humans. The Wolf-Pack is in disarray. A group of the feared collectors is spotted and there’s no turning back. New humans are rarely seen, much less engaged. So, it’s even more surprising when the attack comes.

There’s no provocation, no reason. They kill indiscriminately and Louis’ pack is eradicated. They shoot him last. Then Louis knows why they have come. He knows that what his mother told him was true. He never thought it possible until that very moment. He was certain that she was just being nice. To tell him that his father was new human was a fairy tale. A dream that mothers in the slums told their children for over a hundred years. That one day, a savior would be born. That the savior’s father would be new human. That after they killed this savior, he would be reborn and take vengeance upon the enemy.

The collectors drag Louis along like a prize. It is premeditated. They hold him down and use their extractors. They begin…to harvest him. To kill him, slowly. To punish him and all the naturals for daring such a thing.

And Louis isn’t reborn.

Louis is pissed…

A discharge of lightening against the air-train brings Louis back to the present.

“It was a shock to father,” Myra says. “He didn’t expect you to be there.”

“He did expect me.”

“It changed him,” Myra persists. “He’s a sympathizer now.”

"I remember," Louis says, “that your father was a harvester.”

Myra says, “You owe him your life.”

“Owe him?” Louis feels ice in his veins now.

“He has never divulged the truth, Louis. He protected you!”

“You mean he never admitted that he had a bastard son living in the Refuge?” Louis asks pointedly. “The one son he tried to erase, during a harvest? The one who would surely destroy him if the Party doesn't do it first, for his indiscretion.”

“There was no indiscretion!” Myra screams. “He was the victim of theft! And good luck destroying us! You, Louis, have nothing. You have half our genetic sequence! I’m offering you life, Louis! Don’t you understand?”

Louis waits now. He wants to hear it from her. It will confirm what he already knows. What the General told him the day before he sent Louis on this mission. The thing that his own mother swore to never say until she did. Waiting to do so during the last moments of her life. “You are immortal,” she told him. Then the lights in her eyes went out, literally.

“An augment stole his code,” Myra says. “There was no rape of a natural. Our kind should stoop so low. That is a lie if that is what they told you.”

“I never asserted such a thing,” Louis replies.

“You know!”


“What do you know?” Myra asks.

“You tell me,” he answers.

“I did!”

“You said an augment stole the code.”

Myra turns away. “It was a female. Augment and AI, very little natural.”

“A female?”

“It was the maid, my nanny. But it had no reproductive organs. She, I mean it, was a 90-percenter, more AI and augment, than natural. It stole father’s…”

Louis studied Myra closely. “That augmented natural was my mother.”

Myra looks up. “Impossible!”

© 2020 Jack Shorebird