by Gary Inbinder
part 1 of 2
Cold, damp wind blew across the Regimental Parade Ground, a sobering guardian slapping Ludwig’s drowsy face awake. Banners and guidons snapped in the breeze; a few dead, brown leaves drifted in the swirling gusts, hovering a moment before falling like vanquished soldiers on the sodden field. Chattering magpies circled overhead, and then returned to the almost bare trees surrounding the post.
“Sergeant-Major Ludwig, come forward,” barked the Brigadier, his growl echoing across the hushed quadrangle.
Hung-over from an all night celebration, Ludwig steadied himself, smartly approaching the General, careful not to trip and fall down drunk before the entire Regiment. His equally soused fellow guardsmen now soberly standing at attention smirked inwardly at their comrade’s plight.
Ludwig wore the full-dress uniform of the Republican Guard: brass helmet with a black horsehair crest; burnished steel cuirass; navy blue jacket; white breeches with a red stripe and black boots spit-polished to an obsidian-like shine. Today, Ludwig became a commissioned officer by Act of the First Consul, invested with the Order of the Republican Legion of Honor, Third Class. His promotion and Legion of Honor gave him Gold Class Citizenship, with all the rights and privileges appertaining thereto.
“For gallantry on the field of battle, above and beyond the call of duty...” The Brigadier droned on, like an alchemist intoning magic words transforming the dull base metal that was Sergeant Ludwig, into a highly refined aureate guardian of the state.
Ludwig’s woozy mind wandered until the cold steel smack from the flat of a sword on his shoulders, and the rough bearded General’s kiss on his cheeks, brought him back to reality. Lieutenant Ludwig saluted, about-faced, and returned to the line as a Platoon Leader. The band played the “March of the Republican Guard,” the Regiment Trooping the Color before returning to barracks.
Back in their subaltern’s quarters, Ludwig’s roommate, Lieutenant D’Ax, broke out a bottle of Martian vodka. D’Ax was a dark-haired, dark-eyed, athletic young man of impeccable lineage: several generations of gold on both sides of the family. He even had a platinum ancestor, a Consul for the year 2407. Seated at a small table, and pouring two glasses, D’Ax said, “Hair of the dog, Ludwig; don’t worry; we both start two week’s furlough today.”
Standing in front of his locker, changing from uniform into mufti with his back to D’Ax, Ludwig replied, “Sorry D’Ax; we’re still on duty. I report to the Colonel before leaving the base, and I don’t think greeting him with vodka breath is a good idea.”
D’Ax smiled, speaking with the casual, convivial air of a born aristocrat mentoring his newly made peer, “Come on, Luddy, you’re one of us now; the Colonel will cut you some slack. Remember, you’re a great hero of the Algolian Wars, and the pride of the Regiment; your name and picture are everywhere. They’re even writing songs about you.”
Having changed to civilian clothes, Ludwig acquiesced, accepting a glass of vodka, and toasting the Regiment. What D’Ax said was true; Ludwig’s hero status had its rewards. Ludwig looked the part: six-foot three; ice-blue eyes; close-cropped hair. His face, body and attitude projected an image angular and hard as tempered surgical steel; his softer contours emerged only on rare occasions.
Ludwig couldn’t wait to experience the golden life. His two-week, all expenses paid furlough included a deluxe suite at a Gold restricted seaside resort. For the first time in his life, he would eat, sleep, drink and play like a Gold, and that included having access to hero-worshipping golden women.
Ludwig finished his glass, and poured another. “To us, D’Ax.”
“That’s the style, Luddy. To us.”
Ludwig stood at attention. Seated behind a dispatch laden stainless-steel desk in a gunmetal gray-walled office, Colonel Zack shuffled papers, and coughed, clearing his throat prior to speaking. Without looking up, Zack muttered, “At ease, Lieutenant. Be seated.”
Ludwig sat on a hard, cold, black metal chair facing the Colonel, waiting for him to speak. Ludwig momentarily distracted himself, studying the only decoration on the wall: a Regimental Banner flanked by pictures of the First Consul and Marshal Rodham.
Zack signed a document, and then looked directly at Ludwig with transplanted brown eyes, having lost the originals in combat. “Lieutenant, you begin your life as an Officer and a Gold citizen, with all that entails. You have permission to live one hundred years, and a clone will provide you with spare parts when yours fail. You may have one child with a suitable Gold female, either naturally or artificially inseminated; you will live among and associate with Gold Citizens in restricted areas; your only contact with non-android inferiors will be those under your command.
“Rank has its privileges, but it also has obligations. Silver non-commissioned officers obey their leaders without question. To a Golden Citizen, such obedience is more than something demanded by superiors; it is a matter of honor. We will endure personal loss, pain, death: anything before dishonor. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir; I understand.”
“I hope so, Lieutenant.” Zack’s mouth twitched in semblance of a smile. “I have orders for you. You’ve been seconded to the Internal Security Police, effective today. This assignment carries with it a high priority and the temporary ISP rank of major.”
Ludwig had absolutely no interest in the assignment; nevertheless, such things were never a matter of choice. “Thank you, sir. I hope that my service with the ISP will bring credit to the Regiment.”
“I’m sure it will, Lieutenant. An ISP agent will contact you within the next two weeks. You’ll recognize the agent by the password in this envelope. Memorize the password, and destroy it before leaving this base.”
Zack rose from his desk, and walked over to Ludwig; Ludwig jumped to his feet, they shook hands, and Zack said, “Congratulations Lieutenant; good luck.”
Ludwig took the envelope from his Colonel, saluted smartly, and left the office. Back in his room, he opened the envelope, memorized the password, and then burned the paper, flushing the ashes down the toilet. Ludwig finished packing, and an orderly took his luggage to a staff hover car.
“Good morning sir; welcome to the Intergalactic Aureus Hotel, Spa and Resort. I hope you had a nice trip?” Ludwig parked the hover car in the hotel driveway; a smiling, liveried android flunky greeted him.
Ludwig responded to the programmed question, “You bet, ’droid.”
Ludwig’s answer elicited another clichéd comment. As he unloaded Ludwig’s luggage from the hover car, the android looked upward, remarking, “Lovely weather, isn’t it, sir?”
Ludwig took a deep breath, and viewed the sky. Brisk, salt-tangy sea breeze tingled in his nostrils: above, a clear azure strip stippled with white, cotton-wad cirrus tufts. Ludwig smirked, observing, “Nah, droidy; I think it’s going to rain fire and brimstone, flaming our butts.”
The android smiled, replying, “Of course, sir.” He finished loading the baggage onto a mini-bot cart, asked Ludwig for his reservation card, and then gave the mini-bot instructions. A few metallic clicks, electronic bleeps, a servo’s whining whirr, and the mini-bot took off with the luggage. “The mini-bot will take your bags to your suite, sir. Everything is in order; please just check in at the front desk. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“No, thanks, droidy.”
“Very well, sir. My name is Andrew; if I can be of further service, please let me know. Have a wonderful day, and thank you for choosing Intergalactic Aureus.”
“So this is how Golds live,” Ludwig thought, clad in silk pajamas and robe, reclining in a chocolate-brown ergonomic leather armchair, programmed to adapt its contour, support and climate control to the exact height, weight, shape and temperature of his body. Sipping thirty-year-old Speyside single-malt scotch, he watched as the sun set over the ocean.
Mauve sky burned with streaks of torrid chrome yellow and blazing vermilion, glimmering multi-colored sunbursts reflected on the dark purple sea like muzzle-flashes in a night firefight. Bach’s “Air on the G-String,” mixed with sounds of gently rolling surf, windy susurration, and birdsong, emanated softly from hidden surround-sound speakers.
Ludwig swallowed a mouthful of scotch, savoring its smooth, smoky incandescence swishing over palate and tongue, down his throat into his stomach, enveloping him in a warm, euphoric buzz. He reached over with his right hand and stroked Aurelia’s smooth, dark lemon-grass oil citrus- and straw-scented hair.
This was the last night of furlough; tomorrow he returned to the Regiment, unless the ISP agent contacted him with orders. Ludwig had met Aurelia Finn the evening he arrived at the resort. He could have ordered an orgy in his room, using the Holographic Simulator and female pleasure androids provided by the hotel. However, Ludwig craved the real thing, one on one, and the android concierge recommended “Schrödinger’s Cat,” a popular Gold hangout.
Ludwig had no ideal of womanhood, but he knew what he didn’t want. Aurelia was not too soft, timid, insipid, stupid or boring. The moment he sat next to her at the bar, she recognized him, introduced herself and offered to buy him a drink. “The least a citizen can do,” she said, “for a hero of the Republican Federation.”
Thus began two weeks of Martian vodka cocktails, scotch, pleasure pills, naked dancing and sunset lovemaking on the beach. Now, it was almost over.
Copyright © 2006 by Gary Inbinder