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The computer games were over. Sandy noticed that both Gunny and Afa had earpieces, barely visible, and he asked why he didn’t have one.
“I do not know Citizen Lieutenant. But we are to meet Citizen General Dean in a few minutes. Perhaps he will tell you.”
They waited, at one of the tables outside the testing center. It was quite a nice café, not that Sandy could eat, or drink, anything more. Four cars pulled up. CG Dean got out of the third, and walked over to their table. All three of them stood as he approached. Corporal Afa went down on one knee and bowed his head as the general stopped in front of them.
“At ease gentlemen, be seated…Sandy, would you mind? There is an implant in the base of your skull which it is time to activate. Look at the table please.”
The general touched a screwdriver, well it looked like a screwdriver, to the top of the back of Sandy’s neck, and several things happened at once. Gunny Shane jumped from his chair, knocking it over, and started speaking firmly, clearly issuing orders, while scanning the road and buildings round them. Corporal Afa clattered out of his chair, and went down on one knee before Sandy.
“Forgives me Founder, I is not recognizing you.”
Gunny Shane barked at him and Corporal Afa leaped up, pulled a device from his pocket and started tapping at its keypad.
Sandy had been about to say that there was no implant in the base of his skull, but decided to shut up.
“Look up Uso, things should be clearer now.”
‘Well, that’s different’, thought Sandy. He could see corporal’s chevrons, in blue, above Afa’s shoulders. The insignia of master gunnery sergeant, in gold, were obvious above CMGS Shane’s shoulders, and those of general, also in gold, were apparent above CG Dean’s shoulders. Sandy twisted his head, but he couldn’t see his own insignia.
“All adult residents here are chipped. Citizens will appear blue, non-citizens brown. Gunnery Master Sergeant Shane is the Gooch member of the Twelve. His insignia are gold, as are mine as a Beta member of the Twelve.”
“You, too, are a member of the Twelve, the founders of the reservation”, said CMGS Shane and he gave General Dean a look which could have been called reproachful.
“Surprised you, eh, Gunny? Doesn’t happen often.” The general did not look at all remorseful. “We are heading to the turbines. Your men can meet us there. Let’s go. Chopper on the roof.”
Sandy was sure someone was having him on. The reservation was over fifty years old. He was seventeen. Only turned seventeen today. Stood to reason he couldn’t be a founder. As for being one of the Twelve, that was ridiculous. The Twelve ruled. That little voice in the back of his mind though told him this was all true. It seemed to be enjoying his confusion.
Sometimes that little voice could be a bit of a pain. He’d read about voices. It didn’t sound good, but maybe this was his conscience, or some kind of internal self-monitor. It wasn’t the kind of thing you could ask about. ‘Hey I have this voice in my head sometimes. It comments on what I do. It laughs at me. Sometimes it offers advice, tells me what to do.’ Nah, difficult to make that seem normal.
The general led them to a pretty big helicopter. Inside, he, Sandy, Afa, and Shane sat in what seemed to be a command room. A Choo was already there. It was quiet. One second there was the noise of the rotors then Gunny closed the door and it was quiet.
“Lieutenant, I know this is a lot to take in, but there is a lot more, a heck of a lot more. The first thing you need to know is that we are leaving. Soon. Not just the reservation but this planet. We have always known that our position here is temporary. We are outnumbered more than one hundred thousand to one by the ords, and they will never let the Gooch and the Choo live as equals. We Betas will be seen as a threat by them too. And then there is HAL.
My job is to hold the gate open, once the Exodus begins. Yours is as commander of our main ready reaction force. You will take your team out into the world and bring back our people who cannot make their own way to the reservation. Do you accept that tasking?”
‘Heck, yes.’ This was his dream come true. In the army. Fighting. Rescuing. But who or what was HAL?
“I know you have a lot to learn about the outside. I will give you one piece of advice for how to behave out there. Be polite. Be humble. But have a plan to kill everyone you meet.
Our relationship with the ords is approaching a crisis. It has been difficult for some time. By their standards we are extremely wealthy, secretive, and technologically advanced. We develop and manufacture weapons, as well as a lot of drugs, including soma, which huge numbers of Alphas use. At the moment the ords are uncoordinated. It is the Senator’s job to keep them that way.
Tomorrow we will activate our first gate, the one here on the reservation, and the Gooch and Choo will begin leaving this world. The initial Exodus will take around twenty-eight days. We expect to be in an open shooting war well before then. Our gate out of here emits radiation very like that which comes from a black hole. It will not be accepted as a gateway by the ords. They will demand that we shut it down and turn it over to them. We will refuse. They will attempt to take it by force. That much is certain.
Right now we are heading to our main command center. The Senator is giving a speech to the United Nations General Assembly which we both want to hear. So do Gunny and your Corporal Afa.
This evening you will be having dinner with the Senator and the other members of the Twelve. Any questions that can’t wait?”
Sandy had no idea what the general was on about. Not really. He knew the ords mightily outnumbered the reservation, and that the Exodus was planned. But it had all seemed far away. Not, like, tomorrow. He was interested in his unit. He understood that bit. Rescuing. Fighting. Shooting war. Allgood that.
‘So, I have a full platoon, Gunny?’
“Yes, Citizen Lieutenant you do.”
‘Well, I saw some guys in the gym this morning. They were big, but there weren’t thirty of them.’
“Not even all of those are in your platoon Sandy. Some are mine. There are a couple of vacancies in your unit. If you have no preferences, there is a long waiting list of applicants. Gunny can shorten it for you.”
‘Can I choose?’
“Of course, the final decision is yours.”
‘No, I mean, the guys I want will not be on any list.’
Citizen General Dean looked at Shane. “Any room for toddlers in 1RR?”
“There are only full combat roles General.” The general looked hard at Shane. “Two. But I will have replacements on standby for when they are killed.”
‘Jane. Jane and Nellie. From my dorm.’
“As you wish Citizen Lieutenant. Are they your friends?”
“And you want them dead?”
‘No, of course not.’
There was no answer to that.
It was pretty amazing, this helicopter. The general had done something which meant that the walls of their conference room had become big screens, projecting pictures of the views they would have had if the walls had not been there.
“As you can see Lieutenant, we are now heading to the northern border of the reservation. The reservation is one hundred square miles, set in a desert. We lease ten thousand square miles of desert. We’ve spread a bit over the years, but the city, the reservation, is still surrounded by one hundred square miles of trees.”
This was true. Sandy knew it, but he had never been in a helicopter before. The reservation was pretty much a border of green, with an inner square of cultivated fields, and a central built up area, the city.
“This allows us the luxury of defense in depth. Any land based invading force has to cross the desert, and either enter the reservation along one of the four roads, or cut through the boundary fences and come at us through the forest. Then it must cross the fields. Of course we have artillery and machine guns targeted on the fields.
The forest is patrolled by the Gooch and the Choo. It is also home to a large number of deer and wild pigs. Beneath the forest there is a network of tunnels, which allows the Gooch commander to deliver reinforcements silently. The downside to the tunnels is that if we are betrayed by a spy, and an invading force enters the tunnels, they have rapid access under the forest, and the fields, directly into the city.”
“We is descended and now is east of the cube.”
On the big screen Sandy could see a cleared area of forest within which was a black building, one which looked very like a crashed Borg cube.
“I apologize Lieutenant, but we have lied to you about the cube all your life.”
Really? Sandy had been told that the cube was the reservation’s museum, back-up center, and storage facility where all prototypes were stored.
“The cube is the main training and barracks location for the Gooch and the Choo. We spread misinformation in order to encourage thieves to go there. And there are many attempts at theft. These provide valuable experience for young Gooch and Choo. This way, they don’t have to travel for their combat training. You were there, in one of the gyms, earlier this morning”
“The second defensive weakness is the turbines. We are about to land there now.”
Sandy was pretty sure that nothing could surprise him anymore. He was wrong. Part of the forest below them rolled away to reveal a concrete landing pad. Thunderbirds. Austin Powers. Mondays.
Once he was out of the helicopter Sandy looked up. He saw a concrete roof. He looked around. This was much more than a landing pad. It was a football field sized area, empty except for their helicopter. Not quite empty. There were a number of ladders fixed to the walls which led to camouflaged catwalks under the roof.
A Gooch, seven humans, and a Choo, all in combat gear, ran out, and surrounded the helicopter. CMGS Shane looked satisfied.
“These are men from your unit, Citizen Lieutenant. There is one more Choo, but he is otherwise engaged. Four of our soldiers had day leave as a result of their injuries this morning. That leave has been cancelled. I have arranged for a further platoon to be attached as your personal security, five man teams, six hour shifts. They will not be in position until oh eight hundred tomorrow. Until then, you will have to make do with us.”
Sandy was pretty sure CMGS Shane almost smiled as he said that. There was a twitch at least.
Sandy knew the story of how the Senator had negotiated a nine hundred and ninety-nine year lease of part of the desert for one dollar a year. How he had known about or discovered the underground river that was used to irrigate the reservation, and drive the turbines that provided all the electricity the reservation needed. How, by fairly standard application of known science he had altered the local weather patterns (apparently one hundred square miles of trees can actually generate clouds!) so that there was rainfall over the reservation in sufficient quantities to ensure that the net amount of water taken from the underground river, which flowed to the sea anyway, was nil.
What the general now explained was the defensive weakness, and strength, of the limestone structure through which the river had carved its course. The river traveled through a vast underground cave system. It provided multiple, perhaps many still unknown, points of entry for an invading force.
However, the cave structure also provided vast amounts of storage and research space. And it was home to the reservation’s military command center. Sandy hadn’t known that.
The command center was deep underground, very deep. They took a lift. The bunker was pretty much what Sandy had expected. He’d seen lots of movies, old movies, action movies, science fiction movies. A big room, with a raised central area and hundreds of large screens and monitors around the walls. It looked like about half the soldiers operating the computers were Choo. Sandy thought he’d ask about it later.
“The Senator’s speech is about to start.” CG Dean led Sandy and Shane to the raised area, and pointed them to seats facing the largest of the big screens, which changed from blank to a picture of the Senator preparing to speak. However, the voice was not the Senator’s.
“We are bringing you pictures from the United Nations where the Senator is about to address the General Assembly. There is considerable speculation as to what he is going to say. The Senator needs no introduction. He has been a household name for decades.”
Sandy knew the story. Kicked out of home for breaking his father’s nose when his father beat up his mother. A college athlete who turned down a professional contract to complete his graduate studies. The Senator was rumored to be a millionaire when he decided to join the Marine Corps.
His discharge from the corps was national legend. His CO and friend had been captured and taken across the border. The Senator invaded said less than friendly country by himself, rescued his CO, killed a large number of unfriendlies, and was injured himself. The less than friendly country had demanded his extradition as a war criminal and spy.
At his court martial the Senator defended his actions by saying “In the corps it’s easier to seek forgiveness than permission” and “It’s my job to do the right thing. The president does things right.” “Do the right thing” became his campaign slogan. The court martial found him guilty, discharged him honorably from the corps, recommended him for the Congressional Medal of Honor, promoted him to colonel, and put him on the reserve list for life.
But that wasn’t the half of it. The Senator had then gone on vacation and, during that vacation the ruler of said less than friendly nation was assassinated along with his entire personal bodyguard. After that he was elected to the Senate where he served for twelve years before leaving to head the business, Uso Dex, owner of the reservation.
It was a good story
“Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you for the invitation.”
The Senator had to be, like, eighty years old. He looked old to Sandy, really old, maybe even as old as thirty, but not eighty. That had been one of Uso Dex’s first discoveries – the anti-ageing thing.
The Senator was a legend. He had founded the reservation, what fifty years, maybe more, ago? A safe haven from those humans - Alphas, ords - who would kill and persecute them if they knew. He had kept the Gooch and Choo secret, and recruited misfits from the Alphas, mainly scientists, but artists and writers too, all sorts, until now they were a community, nearly one hundred thousand strong, most of them here on the reservation. Their aim had always been the Exodus, leaving this planet to found one of their own.
For all that time the Senator had kept the ords at bay, providing them with things they found useful, mostly new weapons with which to kill themselves but also soma, the happy pill, which they loved. It was a hard thing to maintain, peace through trade. The anti-ageing thing was the most important. By selling it to the truly wealthy, and giving it to the powerful, the Senator had ensured the quiet existence of the reservation.
And the Senator had lived among the Alphas for a long time, sixty years, seventy years? Sandy didn’t know. History wasn’t really his thing. Jane was the expert there. The Senator had been a colonel in their army, and a senator in their government. Yep, a legend. Sandy couldn’t have done any of that.
And now Sandy was supposed to listen to him giving a speech. Speeches weren’t his thing either. He could use a nap. Oh three fifty was a long time ago.
“What I have to say to you today changes everything. I will have more to say at two pm tomorrow, from the reservation. That will change the way we view life on this planet. As you know I am the chairman of Uso Dex, the largest weapons research company in the world, and a major player in the medicines market.
Many years ago, before my time at the head of the company, Uso Dex was contracted by the military of this country to experiment with the production of Human-Other Primate Hybrids, the so-called HOPS. It was commonly accepted that even if the technical problems could be overcome, humanzees, as they were thought of at the time, would be incapable of speech, of limited intelligence, and, for practical purposes, infertile.
The military thought that HOPS might make good soldiers. They would be stronger and more robust than humans, and more likely to obey orders without question, as dogs do. However, priorities changed, funding was withdrawn from the program, and much later, forty years later, research into HOPS was banned.
The first thing I have to tell the world today is that Uso Dex continued its research into HOPS once funding was withdrawn. By the time research was made illegal, there existed breeding populations of not one, but two, new species. The first of these we call the Choo. Initially chimpanzee-human hybrids, these now form a distinct species. Choo talk. Choo are clever. They are better than humans at processing large amounts of data quickly. Choo are smaller than the average human, but considerably stronger.
The second of the new species is the Gooch. These are chimpanzee-human hybrids that have later been bred with gorilla. Gooch talk. They are big. They are strong. They are intelligent. At Uso Dex we have a Gooch on our ruling council.
Neither Gooch nor Choo regard themselves as human. They do not wish to be human. A number of the Gooch are Muslim.
However, that is not all. In the last few years Uso Dex has developed the first artificial intelligence and that intelligence is about to be transferred into an android blank. His name is HAL, and he is the first of a new species.
According to our laws the Choo, the Gooch, and HAL are people. That is not the law elsewhere.
The last thing I have to tell you today is that Uso Dex, in particular that ten thousand square mile parcel of land we occupy and call the reservation is, right now, declaring its independence and applying for membership of the United Nations. We give notice to the other nations of this world that we will defend our citizens by force, wherever in the world they might be. Uso Dex does not take prisoners.
Thank you for your time.”
Sandy could see, on the screen, that the United Nations was bedlam. Oh well, not his problem.
“What is yours orders, Citizen Lieutenant?” Afa was there, at his side, and quite obviously expected Sandy to tell him something about something. Sandy looked at CMGS Shane.
“We may need to extract any of the employees of Uso Dex, from wherever in the world they are to the reservation at short notice should there be a hostile reaction anywhere to the Senator’s speech. I suggest having Corporal Afa draw up plans to extract any of our people from anywhere. HAL has probably done most of the preparatory work, Sir.”
“Indeed I have Citizen Master Gunnery Sergeant.”
Sandy looked around. There was nobody else on the platform. The voice was coming from the big screen. Had to be this thing called HAL, but the voice was pretty average. Not tinny, or like a robot ought to be. Not at all. It was like a natural born person.
“Do you approve Citizen Lieutenant?”
‘Yeah, sure, Gunny.’ Sandy sort of had an idea of what CMGS Shane had said. It was heavy stuff.
“Fellows, let’s take a moment before we head back. What’s your take on this Gunny?”
“Well, General, I am pleased that the training is over. But, our position is not good. It was never going to be. We are outnumbered one hundred thousand to one. We have personnel scattered all over the world, and we will shortly be undertaking a fighting retreat through a single point. On the other hand, the Senator’s timing is excellent. With China sinking the aircraft carrier and nuclear submarines in the South China Sea, the Alphas have bigger things to worry about than us.”
“And you, what do you think, Lieutenant.”
Sandy wanted to say he didn’t think. This was all news to him, even the China stuff.
‘Not a lot, General. I knew the Gooch and the Choo were secrets. I guess the Senator has just told the world. I didn’t know about HAL. I’m just going to listen if that’s OK by you.’
“That’s OK by me, Uso. Corporal Afa, what about you?”
“Not me Sir. Oh no, not me. Ways above my pay grade.”
“Come on then, back to the flying machine.”
Sandy realized that he was tired. Quite tired.
“We’ve got time to catch most of the league game Lieutenant. What do you think?”
Maybe not that tired. Today was the annual boarders vs day boys rugby league game. Sandy had thought he would miss it.
‘Sure General. I’m keen.’