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All in all, Sandy decided he quite liked being seventeen. Yesterday had been homework, training, sport, hanging out with his Beta mates, making fun of the ords. Gossiping about the Gooch and the Choo. Making plans to join the Army. All his life he’d wanted to join the Army. Nellie and Jane wanted in as well. Jane had been sorted as ‘military, specialist’, so their chances were pretty good actually.
Today, well today, he’d got up (way, way early), been shot, become a citizen, joined the army (as an officer, how’s that?) and it wasn’t even nine in the morning.
This spa bath was nice too. Gunny was off doing whatever gunnies did. Breakfast was on the way. So was the doctor. Sandy was not so sure about the doctor. It was never good if you had to see the doctor.
Oh no, it was a nurse who came into the spa room. Nurses were tricky. At least when a doctor said “just a little prick with a needle” that’s exactly what he was. A nurse would say things like “this won’t hurt”, swab you with something that felt OK, then try to drive a stake through one side of you and out the other.
This nurse wasn’t too bad. Sandy didn’t have to take his boxers down, so no injections. He got his tender bits scanned, something stuck in his ear for a minute, his blood pressure taken, and then it was done.
“Citizen Doctor Smith will see you shortly, Citizen Lieutenant. Here’s a robe. What would you like for breakfast?”
Suddenly Sandy was ravenous. He wondered what it would be like to eat a horse. Nellie might know. He was Tongan and reckoned that horse was the best meat. Mind you Nellie had only been to Tonga a few times, and they didn’t have many horses there anyway. Maybe because they all got eaten? Not that Nellie was really Tongan. He was a throwback, like Jane.
In those early days, when the first chimp-human hybrids had been bred back with humans (in the laboratory), most of the offspring had both human and chimp features. But there had been extremes. Some offspring were too human to stay in the Choo program. Nellie and Jane both had great-grandparents like that. They both had chimpanzee great-great-great-grandmothers, but after two generations back-bred to human their great grandparent was too human to be a Choo, so they were Betas.
Sandy was a Beta too. He only had human genes, but his genome or that of a parent or grandparent, had been engineered. Nothing had been changed, but before he was born some genes had been made available earlier, others later. Some for a longer time, some for a shorter. Nellie reckoned that they’d been trying to give Sandy superpowers, but it hadn’t worked. Too many movies.
But, Nellie was probably a bit right. It seemed like Betas were the failed experiments. Uso Dex, it translated as ten brothers, owned the reservation, and it was a big research organization, weapons and drugs.
‘Everything, thank you, nurse.’
Sandy got a look from the nurse which told him that this nurse was a citizen.
‘I’m sorry, Citizen Nurse.’
“Thank you. Breakfast will be served in the recovery room.”
Sandy had no idea how to tell if someone was a citizen just by looking at them. This was confusing. Back with the juvies those adults who were citizens, had the good manners to wear uniforms, with their surname, and the initial “C”. When you saw someone with “Smith, C” on their shirt you knew that person was a citizen. Citizen Smith. Easy as.
The doctor arrived. She didn’t examine him. Just looked at the readings and scan results left by the nurse. Told him he would live. Nothing was broken. The tingling would decrease and be gone in one or two days. The ribs would take four or five days to heal. No contact training for seven days. The doctor left. Sandy thought she might even have looked at him, twice. Not really sure though. Pretty sure she knew he was in the room. Pretty sure.
Sandy had no idea what the doctor meant by ‘contact training’. Well, not exactly. He didn’t know what ‘non-contact training’ might be. Going to the gym? Going for a run? But that was just working out and fitness. Not training. How could you train without hitting and getting hit? Doctors were weird.
Breakfast arrived. Delivered by a Choo (chimp-human hybrid followed by two breedings with human, then breedings with other Choo) in army fatigues.
“Good mornings Sir. I is Citizen Corporal Afa. Yours orderly and comms officer.”
Well, if Gooch could be citizens, it made sense that Choo could be too. Still. Mondays.
It took Afa three trips to bring all the breakfast into the room, and spread it out on the table. This was most excellent. Way too much food, but Sandy made a particularly honest attempt, and by the time he had finished you could tell he had eaten something.
“Yours uniform, Sir. If you is finished.”
Afa had it all laid out in the changing room. Regulation greens. One pip. A pistol and a knife. This was too good. He had the uniform. He really was in the army.
Gunny Shane arrived as Sandy was holstering the pistol.
‘Gunny, why do I get a pistol?’
“Citizen Lieutenant, you will most often command from the rear. If one of your men runs toward you, heading home, you are expected to shoot him, or her.”
‘Oh.’ It was hard to tell if Gunny was joking. Sandy thought he probably wasn’t. But that wasn’t what he’d meant. He wanted a bigger gun. ‘What about a rifle or a machine gun?’
“You are an officer. We have already given you a knife. Knives are sharp. Lieutenants are not. You might trip over a rifle barrel and shoot yourself somewhere no man should be shot. Lieutenants have the shortest survival time of any rank in the army. We will try and beat the average with you, Sir. It is not looking good so far, though. Day one and you have already been shot four times. No rifle.”
He didn’t look, or sound, as though he was joking. Sandy reckoned he ought to be able to order Gunny to give him a rifle. After all, lieutenants were higher up than sergeants. Maybe. Later.
“We are to return to the testing center. Citizen General Dean has booked you in to try the computer scenarios at ten hundred hours.”
The computer scenarios were weird. There were lots of questions about how the Alphas, ordinary humans, lived outside the reservation. Sandy knew very little about this. He had never lived there. He had never been off the reservation. Of course, there were lots of Alphas on the reservation, and at school, but Sandy didn’t talk to them much at all. Certainly not about life on the outside. Only Betas lived in the dormitories. He didn’t get out much. Bit late to worry about that now.
They called it the reservation, but it was really a top secret research town owned by Uso Dex. Population sixty or eighty thousand. Ten thousand scientists, their families, support staff, and security. Weapons research. Research into new drugs. Oh, and a place to hide the Betas, the Gooch, and the Choo from the world.
He’d heard about money, and rent, but lawyers, and accountants? Alphas had computers didn’t they? Didn’t ords know the difference between right and wrong? They studied Alphas at school. Nellie thought it was dumb. All they needed to know was how to find them, and they mostly lived in cities so that was easy. Sandy could never get his head round Alphas, or ords. They didn’t seem to be for anything. There was no reason for them. Most animals and plants had a reason. Grass was there for cows to eat. That kind of thing. If there was no grass, other animals would die. Some species would become extinct. But all Alphas did was consume and reproduce. What were they good for? And there were billions of them. Nellie reckoned they were for killing, but Nellie science was pretty unreliable.
On the reservation, life was easy. Until you were fourteen the Twelve, the Uso Dex governing council, paid for everything. At fourteen you got your own account. There were cameras everywhere. You took what you wanted from the shop. Looked into the monitor, scanned your fingerprint, scanned your stuff, and away you went. If you did something wrong the Twelve knew. There were cameras everywhere. You got your punishment.
There were lots of questions about Alphas, ordinary humans. The computer seemed really keen to know what he thought of them. It was complicated. He didn’t like them. The world would be a better place without them. But the ones he had met, the adults anyway, seemed pretty good, and most citizens were Alphas. Mind you, there were so many of them, it stood to reason some would pass the test.
One thing Sandy knew. They were going to be at war with the Alphas. As soon as the Alphas learned about the Betas, the Gooch, and the Choo, they would try to destroy them. He had been taught that all his life. That’s why the reservation’s main mission for all these years had been to find a way off this planet. Hiding in plain sight until that happened.
Years ago, they must only have been seven or eight, Jane had had the idea of sneaking out of the dormitories and into the city one weekend. They’d been caught in a park by a bunch of big Alpha kids. Things had looked bad. Sandy had looked at Nellie, and they were just about to get stuck in. If they were going to get a hiding, or worse, at least they’d get a few hits in first. Then this voice had spoken from the air above them. It had named the Alpha kids and told them to leave. Two had advanced to hit Nellie and Sandy. They had been shot. Only rubber bullets, but enough to run them off. That was Sandy’s first (and only) exposure to observation slash anti-personnel drones.
The next week they’d been allowed to start army training. From the very first day Sandy had known this was for him. He understood their strategy. One day, an instructor had asked Nellie what he would do if he was attacked by Alphas. “Fight them”. If there were too many to fight? “Get some guns. Shoot them.” If there were too many for their guns? “Get bigger guns.”
Yep, Nellie had that right, even as a little kid. Their goal was to leave this planet. To go to another one. But before they left everyone agreed they would have to fight. Sandy had thought about it a bit himself. He agreed. The Alphas wouldn’t share. Some of them would, but Alphas needed war. Sandy thought he wouldn’t mind a bit of war himself. Nellie was keen. So was Jane, but she wanted to be a pilot.
There were academic questions. Like a school test. Sandy knew some of the answers. He’d had some luck in the past with forty-two as the answer to maths questions. Tried that a few times. Not too sure that it had much to do with quantum field states. That sort of thing probably needed decimal points and maybe a negative sign or two, but you never knew unless you gave it a go. He popped a Feynman diagram in as the answer to one likely looking question.
Not many, if any, questions about biology. Sandy knew lots about biology. Typical. Mondays. Any test on a Monday would be about stuff he didn’t know.
There were tests of his reflexes and his speed at pattern recognition. They were fun. He had some electrodes attached to his head for the last section. He asked why. The technician told him it was part of the assessment for citizenship. Kind of obvious that. Duh.
To Sandy’s surprise, Gunny Shane stepped in front of the technician.
“The citizen lieutenant asked you a question. That was not an adequate response. Answer him.”
The technician, a bald fussy Alpha looked as though he was going to say something. But he changed his mind, wise choice, and said, “Emotional responses to the following scenarios are recorded, as well as the respondent’s intellectual response.”
This was a confusing morning, and the final scenarios were surprising. They were all about “Imagine the reservation is overrun and assimilated by the outsiders”. The first ones were easy. About joining a resistance or fitting in with the new rules. They got worse. He had joined the resistance, in the scenarios, and was instructed to continue living in the reservation as a teacher. The scenarios pushed him to decide what he would and would not do on instruction from the invaders. Not that, or that, or that. Then, they imagined he was captured together with a group of Alphas. He had no trouble with “tell us where your leaders are or these people will all be killed.” They died. More difficult was when he was captured with two members of his unit and given the choice, “Tell us which of these two to kill, or we will kill both of them.” It didn’t matter, even when one of the two was clearly more valuable to the resistance, or an Alpha, Sandy just couldn’t give up on one of them. He couldn’t save them either.
But he could remember.