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‘That’s odd’. It wasn’t every morning that Sandy shuffled out of his dormitory to find a Gooch seated in the Beta’s corridor. In fact, this was the first morning like that. The Gooch stood. Sandy came up to his shoulders. Mind you, Sandy wasn’t especially tall. The surname on his uniform tunic, “//GOOCH”, was just below Sandy’s eye level.
Sandy was good at biology. He had read about the Gooch, and had seen photos. But there had never been one in the Beta’s dorm. Not that he knew anyway. Mind you, nobody told him anything. And it was a Monday. Sandy didn’t like Mondays. Strange things happened on Mondays. See. Like this.
Initially a chimpanzee-human hybrid. Second generation bred with a gorilla. Then two generations bred with human (O for ordinary). All those in whatever sort of laboratory dish they used those days. Two Gooch-Gooch breedings since. Gooch were big. This one looked like, what, one hundred sixty kilo, three fifty pounds, something like that, of muscle.
Gooch were apes, like humans. Everyone reckoned that a sure way to start a fight was to call one a monkey. Monkeys have tails. And you didn’t want to get into a fight with a Gooch. They could rip an arm off a human, easy as.
Gooch, and Choo, had human looking faces, no muzzles and no pronounced brow ridges. Yep, artificial breeding was a powerful tool. Look at the huge variety of shapes and sizes dogs came in, all the result of only a few hundred years of artificial breeding.
“Happy birthday Citizen Candidate.”
Today was the day. Not because it was his birthday. Sandy had had those before. They weren’t big events on the reservation. No today was special. Hopefully a day he would never have to repeat. Sandy didn’t think he had slept much at all. Or maybe his clock had stopped. When it finally read 03:50, Sandy decided that was near enough. He got up. The dormitory was quiet. He made his bed in the dark, regulation corners and all. His towel, soap, and clothes were on the bottom shelf of the cabinet. Sandy gathered them up and went into the dimly lit hallway.
He hadn’t woken Nellie up. That was good. Nellie was his best mate, and he would have been keen to come too. They’d been in the same dormitory, in adjacent beds, with Nellie nearer the door for as long as Sandy could remember. When they’d first been sorted, Sandy had been graded “military, commander”, Nellie “military, commando”. But today was something for Sandy to do alone.
And, so, here he was.
‘Good morning.’ Always be polite to a Gooch. They are very intelligent. Well, human intelligent anyway. Hard to fool. But it can’t be a bad thing to plant the idea that you are their friend. At least, that’s what the betters in Sandy’s group thought. None of them had ever met a Gooch, but they had talked about them a lot, imagined meeting one.
“I am called Shane. I am to be your second. I understand it is your custom to shower on awakening?”
Sandy agreed. It seemed like a good idea, and he was carrying a towel and his clothes. The Gooch walked with him to the showers. There were bathroom blocks at both ends of the corridors. Simple things, each with twenty cubicles, and in each cubicle a shower, a toilet, and a basin. Sandy went into his. If he passed today’s exam, he wouldn’t be using it tomorrow. Citizens didn’t live in the dorms. Sandy didn’t know where they lived, somewhere in the city, but not in the dorms. The Gooch waited, standing at ease while Sandy showered, brushed his teeth, and dressed for the day.
“Have you finished?”
Sandy said he had. So far so good. He was more or less awake now.
“We are not required for testing until oh seven thirty hours. What are your plans until then?”
‘Well, nothing really.’
In truth, Sandy had gotten up way too early because he was too excited and too nervous to stay in bed. Today he was to be examined for citizenship. He was young, seventeen today, minimum age for citizenship. But the notification had come last week. Nellie and Jane were so jelly. He was the youngest, but the first to be examined.
That was great. Not so great was the fact that Sandy could not find out anything about what he was to face. Nobody would tell. He didn’t know whether the examination was a written test, or a physical one, or both.
His friends had lots of ideas. But they were jelly, jelly as could be, and they were just trying to frighten him. They deffo got him thinking all the same. Sandy was pretty sure there were no dragons. He was pretty sure he wouldn’t be placed in a cage to fight a hungry lion. Pretty sure. Nellie had some ideas that were way out there. Too many movies. Old movies, action movies, the kinds they had here on the reservation.
There were citizens with the juvies, but they weren’t talking. So, it was all guesswork. The teachers and trainers all told him not to worry. He would either pass or he would not. True that, but Sandy decided to worry anyway, just a little bit. But it turned out to be quite a lot.
Sandy couldn’t imagine being a resident but not being a citizen. Citizenship was important. It wasn’t a matter of life or death. It was way more important than that. Citizens were worthy, hearty. They were the soul of Uso Dex. Life as a citizen was life with meaning.
Today was something he had trained for, lived for, for so long as he could remember.
Sandy thought, well he hadn’t really thought much about what to do right now. He could go to the gym. Jog on the treadmill for a while. Maybe lift a few weights. Maybe not, not in front of a Gooch. They were supposed to be incredibly strong. Sandy didn’t feel like being laughed at. Not today. Not yet, anyway.
“We shall join my men for morning exercises. Come Citizen Candidate Sandy.”
So much for that. They left the dormitory block. The Gooch jogged, and so did Sandy, until they came to a single story green building, entirely unremarkable. Just a brick block, about six meters square. There were lots of these all over the place.
Gooch weren’t quick. It was said that they didn’t enjoy running. That was OK by Sandy. You had to be mad to even think about running this early in the morning, or was it this late at night? Morning didn’t start before dawn, did it? Shane Gooch’s thumbprint opened the door, and they entered a lift. When they got out, there was a subway maintenance car in front of them. They got in, and the Gooch pushed buttons. Soon, they had branched off the subway. Sandy was pretty sure they were heading outside the city, outside the fields, and under the forest.
The journey did not take long. Not long enough for Sandy to choose one of the many questions he had to ask this Gooch called Shane.
When the maintenance car stopped the Gooch exited and led Sandy briskly down a corridor, right down another corridor, past several doors, and into a gym where four Gooch and more Choo were exercising. Nice gear. He’d never seen a Choo before either, but these had to be Choo. They were a bit smaller than him, but super toned and super defined, like two per-cent body fat defined. Sandy hardly had a chance to look around before he heard an explosion behind him. The concussion knocked him over and forward.
He landed, looking back the way they had come, and saw two figures, masked and dressed in black, emerge from the smoke and start firing into the gym from the doorway. They didn’t seem to have noticed him. He was only a short distance from the intruders, and he charged. The lights dimmed. One of the intruders was turning towards him. Sandy’s shoulder hit that one in the gut and he was able to turn him so his body stood between Sandy and bad guy number two. The intruders collided and fell backward. The last thing Sandy saw was bad guy number two’s weapon firing wildly, the bullets striking the ground, then the wall, then along the wall, and then him.
He saw that clearly, in slow motion. Very clearly.
It hurt. A lot. All over. And he couldn’t open his eyes.
Sandy recognized that voice. It was Shane.
“He was hit four times Gunny. Two Taser and two rubber bullets. All HOP rounds and he’s only human. Still breathing though, and he has a pulse.”
That didn’t sound good. Not good but could be worse. He wasn’t dead, not yet. Sandy passed out again.
He woke up. This time he could open his eyes. Sandy was lying on a stretcher, with a white sheet over his body, folded back over his chest. He hurt, but not all over. Just in one, two, three places in his chest and his right arm. The rest of him tingled. Shane was sitting beside him. With two mugs of what smelled like hot chocolate.
‘Yes. Thank you.’
Sandy struggled to sit up. The movement hurt his chest. The chocolate was nice.
“Good. Too much hot chocolate upsets my stomach.”
Sandy looked around. They were in some kind of medical room. There were machines, but curtains were drawn around him.
‘Where are we?’
“Infirmary. You have an appointment at oh seven thirty hours. If you are well enough to attend we can still get there in time. If you are too unwell, we stay here. If you die, which now seems unlikely, I pull the sheet over your face, drink your hot chocolate, take you down to the morgue, and my stomach will suffer for the rest of the morning. And I will have paperwork to do. It is careless to lose a citizen candidate before breakfast.”
Sandy had to laugh. It hurt to laugh, and he spilled hot chocolate on the sheet. ‘I’m not dead. Let’s go.’ It didn’t hurt once he was up and walking. Deep breaths hurt. ‘What time is it?’
“Oh seven ten.”
‘Good timing then. Being shot at filled the time. Nice.’
“You were not shot at. You got in the way and you were shot.”
They were back in another subway maintenance car, before Sandy thought to ask. ‘What happened back there, in the gym, with the shooting?’
“My unit is a ready reaction force. There are randomly timed training assaults on it. This morning was one of those.”
Sandy didn’t know what to make of that. So he shut up. Mondays. He was going to ask more questions. Like, where did all the Gooch come from? Four in one place? What was that all about? There were supposed to be fewer than a hundred Gooch all up. But Gooch weren’t talkers. Everyone knew that, and his Gooch, well his Gooch didn’t look like the kind of bloke who specialized in small talk. He’d heard that part of the reason there were so few Gooch was that they had problems with fertility. Probably a bit early in their relationship to ask about that.
He snuck a look at his Gooch. Nah, not the time for questions. Yep, their heads were in proportion to their bodies. Humans all had pretty much the same sized heads, which meant that some big guys were pinheads. But this guy, his head was in proportion to his body. Head size was pretty much determined by brain size, and Gooch had bigger brains than humans. They had bigger brains than humans of their size, too. Neanderthals, cave men, had also had bigger brains than modern humans. Interesting.
Sandy snuck another look at his Gooch. Yep, he had a square face. Wide forehead and jaw, with strong cheekbones but not so prominent as to make the face round. None of this Alpha rubbish with a narrow jaw that made the face oval, like an upside down egg.
The subway maintenance car arrived at a station outside the testing center. Well, normally it was a conference center according to the signs, but today it was a testing center. Inside the reception hall there were maybe a hundred candidates, clustered in groups of two, three, and four and chatting. All were older than Sandy, and all were much better dressed. Lots of them were in military uniforms. In fact, as Sandy looked down at himself he saw that he was, well, singed and somewhat crumpled, if you could be crumpled in shorts, trainers, and a school polo.
It looked like most of the candidates were Alphas. Sandy wasn’t sure about that. He’d never had much to do with Alphas, ordinary humans. You could tell Alphas though. Tall and skinny. Alpha. Bald. Alpha. Glasses. Alpha. Fat. Alpha. Dumb shaped faces. Alpha. Anyone stupid enough to wear labels. Alpha. Really, who else but an Alpha, an ord, would pay more for a shirt or pants just so he could walk around and advertise some company?
Sandy felt better as he looked round the room. He’d heard there was a high failure rate in the citizenship exam. Stood to reason if they let Alphas be candidates.
Sandy followed Shane who marched, yes marched, through the candidates to the front of the hall, and up to the foot of the stage where he stood to attention and boomed.
“Citizen Master Gunnery Sergeant Shane Gooch introduces Citizen Lieutenant Sandy to the certification board.”
All noise in the hall ceased. All eyes turned to look at Shane. Sandy had no idea what was happening. He hadn’t known Gooch could become citizens. And this one was just wearing greens. No rank insignia. See, nobody told him anything. And what about his exam?
One of the seven people seated on the stage stood. Shane saluted again.
“Good morning Citizen General Dean.”
“Good morning Master Gunnery Sergeant. Your actions are entered into the record. Would you show the citizen candidates the tape?”
The big screen in the hall was huge. And now Sandy saw, from the intruders’ mask cameras, the video of their entry into the HOP, Human-Other Primate, barracks. He saw that the explosion he had heard was a concussion grenade used to take out a Choo running towards the gym. He saw himself being tossed forward. He saw the intruders firing on the unarmed soldiers. He saw both intruders swing towards him as he moved to tackle one of them, and he saw the rounds traveling along the floor, up the wall, and into him.
Randomly timed? Yeah right. That had been his exam.
“Thank you Master Gunnery Sergeant. I will see the citizen lieutenant at twelve hundred. Please ask him to try the computer scenarios at ten hundred hours. A doctor will attend him in the baths in thirty minutes.”
“Very good, Sir.”
Citizen Master Gunnery Sergeant Shane Gooch saluted (again), performed what seemed to Sandy like a pretty snappy about-turn, stamping his foot down and all, and commenced marching back through the candidates who parted before him.
“Follow me, Sir.”
Sandy followed Shane out of the examination hall, still unsure of what had happened. This was strange, even for a Monday.