A Sighting on the Blind Side
by Margaret Karmazin
part 1 of 2
My chance presents itself when an insignificant cargo ship checks in. The captain, Frank Kipper, an easy-going loner, brushes past me calling, “Hey, Phil, do me a favor? Switch some takeoffs tomorrow so I can get out before 1400?”
It’s amazing how ship personnel believe, because you and they joke around a few times, that you’re going to let them get away with infractions. In this case, however, it’s me who’s about to get away with a major violation, so I just nod and wave him on.
In a flash, I’m inside his ship, have it humming and signal for take-off. While Frank is probably halfway to one of Triton Station’s twenty-six bars or hookup suites, I back out the Nuts & Bolts, the official name for his ship. By the time anyone figures out what I’ve done, I’ll be on the other side of Wormhole III.
I run a scan for life — human, android, known alien (Ferv and Rikshatan) and animal. Other than a cat in one of the halls, nada.
The cat appears, nonchalantly jumps onto the co-captain chair and licks his anus.
Soon I’m sailing free in Lao Zone, the least inhabited area of the Earth-mapped universe. One could float here for years without meeting an inhabited planet, or a moon, ship, or debris. This is the place to unwind, think and recover or possibly the opposite: check out.
I’m bored to death with the human race and its unevolving shenanigans. Devastating wars: when one ends, another has already started; what horrors planet or group X has instigated; the shallow interests of people: which celebrity has replaced body parts, who is appearing on what world or station, what religious sect will save your soul or new discovery will conquer death, blah blah blah.
That famous caricature of the grumpy old man? That’s me, only can I honestly say I’m still a man? How many people can say that who are a hundred and twenty years old? My carcass is forty-five percent biodigital, thirty-five percent regrown, leaving a mere twenty percent original, though even that’s enhanced. I look the way natural old-timers might have looked at age forty-five. I feel physically excellent. It’s my spirit that’s tired.
I’m here now possibly to put an end to myself. Three failed marriage contracts under my belt, two sons and a daughter, five grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren I never see and who’ve apparently forgotten my name... Nothing to linger around Earth or Mars for. I’m working myself into a world-class pity party here.
A metallic crash reverberates through the ship. Out of my seat in a flash, I peer out the control room door into a long, dark corridor. The scan was wrong? My regrown heart thuds.
I wait... Nothing. Then I return to Control, seal the door and rerun the scan. The cat jumps from his chair to sniff at the closed door. I see something on the screen and my gut clenches. A living entity of about 45 kilos is just outside one of the cargo bays. Rechecking the scan I see now that it has bypassed bay IV. Why?
Calling up the ship’s original structure map, I zero in on that bay and voilà: Bay IV is benidium-lined.
As a seasoned space-traffic controller, I should have known what kinds of secret storage areas I might find on a small, private cargo ship. And definitely that Frank Kipper, who’s always been evasive about why he works alone, would haul illegal substances for the right price. The lined cargo room is probably no more than closet size and would slip by station scans.
I set my stuns, and for back-up, the Rikshatan morph blade I keep in my boot. Whoever is out there probably knows this ship better than I do, every nook and cranny.
Hearing a metallic footfall, I creep to the corridor’s end, wait for the next sound which signals me to the right, then, crouching down, pull out my stun. Someone’s shadow at the end of that hall elongates sideways.
“Hey!” I yell, jumping out and aiming for “someone’s” head. “On the floor, spread ’em!”
The figure drops and spreads as it screams one of the more filthy curses of the solar system. I approach tentatively. Amazing that though I’m tired of living, how protective I am of my life.
I arrive at the spot to see a small human. Poking it with my foot, I order, “Get up. Hands on the wall.”
I set the stun on the floor and tell it to keep figure inline. It flashes orange in affirmative. After frisking the individual, I stand back. “Turn around,” I bark.
She does. Her eyes are intensely blue and slightly tilted.
“You are?” I prompt.
“Linya Twenty. Got a problem with that?”
It’s hard to sound tough when your voice registers in the upper end of the scale. “What are you doing on this ship? I was under the impression its captain travels alone or with robos.”
“His robos have been down and stored since I’ve been here. Unless he wants one of the sexuals.”
For a moment I flounder. “Uh, well, glad to hear he’s not into children.”
She scowls. “Frank’s a good guy. You want me to kick you where it hurts?” The defiant set of her little chin stabs me in the heart. My daughter when about that age flashes through my mind — I’d caught her doing something, can’t recall what, but the chin thing, that seems like yesterday. For a sec, I have an insane urge to weep.
“So... Frank knows you’re on here?”
“Of course he knows, you idiot! What did you do to him? You better not try anything with me, I’ll bite it off!”
I’m old enough to be her great-great-great grandfather. “For your information, I haven’t been interested in ‘trying anything’ for longer than you’ve been in the flesh. So shut up and explain why you’re on this ship!”
“Why are you on this ship?” she snaps.
She’s an odd little creature, wiry and mean-looking. Her reddish-brown hair appears to have been styled by a lunatic. Her skin is pasty, as if she has never seen sunlight.
I stare her down. “Eventually, one of us will have to eat,” I say sarcastically. “Or use the toilet.”
She spits on the floor, wipes her chin with her arm and barks, “I belong here. You’re the one who don’t.”
“Yeah? Frank didn’t mention passengers when he checked in. And apparently you were hiding in that benidium bay, so technically I could turn you in.”
“Really?” she says, voice riding even higher. “And how would you explain Frank’s disappearance?”
“How do you know he’s disappeared?”
“Well, you’re here and that says it. He wouldn’t have taken on another passenger.”
“Why’s that, squirt?”
“Because... because he hates people, that’s why.”
“Really? So how come he let you on here?”
She clams up. I realize I still have the stun on her, so order it off. Taking a chance — for all I know, she could ram me with something.
“Where are we? I shouldn’t be out here exposed.”
“Lao Zone, and why not?” I ask, very suspicious now.
“Anyone around here?” she snaps.
“Totally unlikely. But do explain.”
“I need something to eat,” she says, ignoring the question. “I’m frickin’ starving. And you,” she adds. “You’re gonna explain what happened to Frank.”
She zips past me while I rush to keep up. We whisk through a door and enter the galley. Haven’t seen it yet, so it kind of surprises me. All done up in blue with curtains around a false window and fake flowers in a vase on the table.
“This your work?” I ask.
She ignores me while opening and shutting drawers, slamming pans around. In a few minutes, onions are sizzling on the fancy looking stove. She behaves as though I’m not there, so I park myself at the table. The aroma of food drives me crazy.
But she plops down only one plate of mystery meat with the onions. “I don’t get any?” I whine.
She ignores me and shovels it in. As she lifts her arm, her sleeve rides up to reveal a row of symbols on her wrist. My gasp causes her head to pop up, her fork in midair. “What?”
“Nothing,” I say, then change my mind. Why am I allowing a pip-squeak teenager to intimidate me? “That tattoo on your wrist.”
She stands up and slams both hands on the table, sending the fork clanging to the floor. “You mind your own business, you hear?” she yells, then runs from the room. I dart for the corridor, but she’s gone. Since she abandoned her food, what the hell, I eat it.
Back in Control, I worry. God only knows what she could be doing out there, sabotaging in ways too numerous to count. I run scan and locate her in one of the apartments, not moving, possibly lying on a bed. I decide to let her be for now.
Unless I’m mistaken, that tattoo is the mark of the Galodea, an organization like twentieth-century Nazis melded with Cosa Nostra. Purity of humans is their obsession and if you happen to carry even a tiny percentage of Ferv or Rikshatan DNA, they may visit in the dark of night and your landlord will wonder why you disappeared before paying your rent.
Within a short time, you’ll be someone’s personal property on any of the worlds where such activity is tolerated. A Galodea slave is tattooed the day of its capture, using an ink that their technology can detect from quite a distance, and escape is nearly impossible. Should the impossible happen, woe to the slave who escapes and to anyone who facilitates that escape.
My guts turn to gurgling lava.
I pass a shaky half-hour, visualizing myself on one of Galodea’s rumored torture racks till I’m startled by “music” that sounds like cattle being sliced to shreds in a clanging, threshing machine. Frantically, I search the ’puters for sound control and turn everything off, but it continues. Nothing for it but to chase it physically. Not hard — she’s back in the galley stuffing her face while bobbing to the mind murdering racket.
“TURN THAT OFF!” I bellow.
Deliberately, she continues to chew. I slam my fist on the table, causing her bowl and utensils to clatter. “Either do it or I’ll cut off your food and water!”
She makes a face, snaps her fingers and the horror stops.
“What the hell was that?”
She shrugs. “Musico.”
“Where is the damned thing?”
She reaches around to pull something from a back pocket then hands it to me. It looks like a grape.
“Where’d you get this?”
“Frank,” she says. “You know, the guy who actually owns this ship.”
My hand shoots out and grabs her wrist, hard. Before she can fight me, I have her sleeve yanked up and the tattoo exposed.
“Explain this,” I growl, more terrified than angry.
She jerks away, intending to run, but I have my stun on her. “It’s set to ‘low’. Won’t kill you, just hurt like hell.”
“You wouldn’t,” she says, and to her amazement and my regret, I blast her. She slams back against the wall, slides down and curls up in a ball, rolling about yelping. I feel like I’ve kicked a puppy.
I help her to her feet. She’s too weak to fight and indeed, leans against me. Depositing her back in her chair, I sit and try again.
“Since you’re endangering my life, you’re going to explain. How did you get that tattoo and how did you escape?”
Her head is wobbly, but she manages to speak. “Frank promised me,” she says, so low I can hardly hear.
“Promised you what?”
“That he knew someone who’d get it off, that the guy’s a genius and no one will be able to tell afterwards.”
“How did it get on there in the first place?”
She turns away, but the fight in her is gone. “They had me from the beginning.”
It takes a moment for that to sink in. “You mean... you were a lot baby? They bought you before...”
She nods. Lot babies, for the sheltered among you, are fertilized embryos that black-market labs sell in batches. Those who need a cheap workforce of children are eager to buy. The punishment for engaging in such activities is death, unless you’re involved in high-end organized crime. In which case, you get away with anything you please.
I put away the stun. “All right, so you were raised in a Galodea den. How is that done, exactly?”
She breathes heavily, rubbing her arms, trying to recover. “I don’t remember anything till I was three. They had ‘mother’ slaves take care of us. Some were decent, some weren’t. They’d been lot babies themselves.
“By the time we were eight or nine, we were harvesting spode, then as we got older with better fine-motor control, we graduated to working in the refining mills. By the time I was fifteen, Earth Count, I was foreman of my section.”
“How old are you now?”
“Did you ever get to go anywhere? What about education?”
“Education consists of what we need to know. Math, physics, technical stuff, obviously how to read. Two languages, Anglo and Galactic Mandarin. How to cook and keep yourself and belongings clean. Travel? One of the plant owner’s sons, Nigel de Galodea, decided he wanted me. He forced himself on me several times, then occasionally took me away for business trips on other moons and once on Koglan IV. I got to see what free people do. I made up my mind.”
“Made up your mind?”
“Yeah. That I would escape or die. I didn’t care which.”
“I’ve heard that escape is impossible.”
“You heard wrong. Many have escaped, many have been caught. And then either killed or brain-dulled.”
“And the people they were caught with?”
She doesn’t answer. My intake of breath is shaggy. The only thing good we have going is where we currently are in space. But we can’t stay here forever. I could eject her. Her demise would be quick.
“Please don’t kill me,” she says softly. Her eyes are lustrous like you only see in the very young, their whites still milky blue.
“How did you know I was thinking that?”
She looks off to the side and instantly I know she is part Ferv. But the Galodea would never purchase lot fetuses with that in them. “You read my mind,” I say. “How did this happen?”
“I’m not sure,” she says.
“They wouldn’t knowingly buy a batch of hybrids.”
“You’re right. They’d never let hybrid slaves work in their spode plants. Captured hybrids are for mining and hard labor; they work them to early deaths. Because,” she says smirking, “we can read their evil minds.”
“What I cannot understand is how the whole batch of you keep it hidden or who made the batch in the first place.”
“I’ve heard,” she says, “that there are those who secretly mock the Galodea. Infiltration, so to speak.”
“A sorry way to do it, at the expense of so many miserable lives.”
“But don’t you see,” she says, smiling for the first time. “It is the thing most feared by Galodea masters, it’s why they hate hybrids! You know, don’t you, that when they capture known hybrids and enslave them, they do something to their minds so they’re no longer telepathic?
“Somehow, I guess by the time we lot babies developed telepathy, usually around age eight, we knew to keep our mouths shut. I was able to mind read Frank when I first saw him on Koglan IV. It was how I made my escape.”
“What did you read in Frank?”
Copyright © 2012 by Margaret Karmazin