Presented for your enjoyment, the first installment of a short story featuring the origin of one of my central characters in Exodus: Empires at War. I will present this story in four parts. Anyone interested in reading the story in its entirety can go to my website, Imagination Unlimited, or directly to the story page at Exodus Shorts. The story can be downloaded in Word, PDF or Kindle format. Or you can see all of my books at my Amazon Book Page.
A New Life
“Bastards,” growled Parker Murphy, slamming his hand down hard on the table.
Cornelius Walborski nodded his head in sympathy while taking a sip of the good beer. He was treating this night. Parker, while he wouldn’t starve, would not have the discretionary funds for nights out in the near future, if at all.
“You’ll find something,” he told his friend, raising his hand to get the attention of the serving robot. Nothing too good for us workers, he thought as the machine flashed a light his way, then wheeled off for the bar. Human servers were expensive, and one server specialist could run three of the robots, enough to cover the entire bar.
“How the hell am I going to find anything,” yelled his friend, attracting stares their way despite the noise deadening field around their booth. Noise deadening was the operative word, not sound proof. People could still hear them if they talked loud enough, and a yell seemed to be loud enough. “Those fucking bastards control all the work.”
“You won’t starve at least,” said Jonah Friedmoore, another of Cornelius’s close friends.
“I want more than to just exist,” hissed Parker, glaring at his friend. “I want to get somewhere in life. Not spend every day looking at the walls of my apartment.”
Cornelius nodded his head again. He didn’t know what to say. The dole allowed people to exist. As Jonah had said, you wouldn’t starve, and your medical was covered, one of your rights as a citizen. There was even the mind numbing entertainment of the vid stream, or the online library if you were someone who was into learning. But to get ahead you needed a job, and jobs were hard to come by. And the jobs were all controlled by.
“Those bastards,” said Parker again. “Those greedy, privileged bastards. I wish I could get that damned Baron alone somewhere.”
Good luck with that, thought Walborski. Nobles had bodyguards, who would take Parker apart before he could do anything to their precious charge.
Their drinks came, and Parker downed his in a few moments. Cornelius signaled for another. After all, he had the luxury of two jobs, and his wife another, in a society where almost half the work force was idle. If not for the Man in the Loop accord it would have been worse, but someone needed to oversee all of those robots that worked the factories and civil maintenance
“There’s always the Fleet,” said Jonah, whose father had served in the Imperial Navy, a fact he was sure to let everyone know about, even if he didn’t join himself.
“You’ve got to have skills to get in the Fleet,” said Parker, grabbing at the next beer that the serving robot put in front of him. “Or connections.”
Cornelius was not sure that was true. He had always heard that the Fleet trained its recruits. But to be away from family. Parker had a wife, after all.
“Then join the Imperial Army,” said Jonah, never the most diplomatic of people.
“You join the fucking Army,” yelled Parker. “Since you seem to love it so much. Maybe you like taking orders from the Baron and people like him. I think we need to put assholes like him in their place.”
Cornelius cringed in his seat. The Baron was in charge of Windsor City and surroundings, and was not someone to mess with on his own turf. Cornelius got his jobs from the Duke himself, the chief executive of the continent, but it still did no good to stir up trouble with the noble’s subordinate. And Katlyn had her job directly through the Baron’s wife, whose husband also owned the factory Walborski worked in.
“Hey,” yelled the bartender, a real live human, walking toward the booth. “I will have no talk of treason in my bar. You understand me, Murphy. Keep a tight lip on it, or get out.”
“I’ll say what the hell I want,” said Parker, standing up and glowering at the bartender, who was also the bar manager. Parker picked up his glass and threw it at the tender, bouncing it off his arm.
“That’s assault, you asshole,” yelled the bartender back. “I’ll have your ass in jail.”
“And I’ll have you in a reconstruction tank,” yelled Parker, pushing Jonah out of the way and going for the bartender.
He can’t be that drunk, thought Cornelius, grabbing for his friend’s arm and missing. He had to have taken something on top of the alcohol. Not that drugs were hard to find, legal and illegal.
Parker pushed the bartender, a man he towered over, hard enough to send the man staggering back, where he fell over a chair. Parker headed toward him, bringing a foot back to kick the man, when he wobbled on his feet, then fell to the floor in a limp mass. Cornelius clapped his hands over his ears as the sonics sounded through the bar. He felt a little numbness in his body as well, but nothing like his friend. He spotted the Copeye robot in a second, floating near the ceiling, its front end, where the stunner was located, pointed at Parker.
“Let’s get out of here,” said Jonah, pulling at Cornelius’ arm.
“We’re on the thing’s memory,” said Cornelius, planting his feet and refusing to budge. “They’ll want our statements. You rather give it to them here, or at home.”
Moments later a pair of big police officers came walking through the door, big men in light augmentation armor. They didn’t move with the grace of the biologically enhanced. That was reserved for special units made up of military retirees. But their armor gave them an advantage over any regular citizen that might want to try them.
“And that’s what happened,” said Cornelius to the officer that took his statement, after Parker had been removed from the scene. “Look, he’s not a bad guy. He lost his job today, and got a little messed up.”
“And how did he lose his job?” asked the police officer in a flat voice.
“He made a comment that the Baron overheard when he was touring the factory Parker worked at.”
“Teach him to speak in front of his betters,” said the cop, shaking his head. He looked around the bar for a moment, then back at Walborski. “You can go. We’ll be in touch with you if we need more information.”
Cornelius nodded and walked away. Moments later he was in his aircar, a luxury that multiple jobs gave him. The city was lit up around him, though some of the windows of the skyscrapers were dark as the people inside went through a sleep cycle. But many more were lit. People on the dole didn’t have to keep regular hours. He started to fall asleep himself along the way home, but his car knew the way. Windsor wasn’t the largest city on the planet, which didn’t boast the largest cities in the Empire. He dreamed one day of visiting Jewel, and see the capital city of Capitulum, home to over three billion people. We might just be able to do that in a couple of years. He and Katlyn were getting ahead, and recently they had actually started savings. Interstellar travel was still expensive, too much so for most private citizens. Unless it was a one way trip to the frontier.
“Katlyn,” he called out as he entered their apartment, again something they could afford with a regular income, a place to be proud of. Boss Kitty, their four year old Tom, came at the sound of his voice, meowing like he was scolding Cornelius for being late to come home. Probably just wants some food, thought Cornelius, walking to the kitchen with the cat weaving in and out of his legs.
She must be in bed, was his next thought, as he pulled a can of cat food from the cabinet, then emptied it into a frictionless bowl he pulled from the cleaner. Maybe we can get a program for the robot that feeds the damned cat. He shook his head at that last thought. Katlyn liked to feed the cat, though she was quick enough to use the cleaning bot to get rid of the animal’s waste.
Cornelius pulled a joint of synthicanibus from the lower cabinet and made his way back into the living room, plopping down on the couch. With a thought the trivee projector came on, and he was surrounded in the peaceful scene of a city park, children playing in a fountain, one of Katlyn’s favorite views. She forgot to reset it, again, he thought, flipping the surrounding scene to that of a tropical beach. He didn’t like the park at all, as it reminded them of what they didn’t have. And he had been to that park before, in New Detroit City, and had never seen that many children around. Just another lie.
He ran down the list of entertainments in his mind, rejecting one after another. He didn’t want to play a mercenary, or a tough lawman, or any of the other possibilities. And none of the canned shows held any interest. He dismissed the illusion with a thought and switched to a news channel, one that didn’t surround him with the surround of a studio, just replicating the anchor sitting in 3D at her desk. Cornelius lit up the mild narcotic and took a puff, feeling the relaxation flowing through him. Boss Kitty jumped up beside him, demanding attention, and Cornelius blew out the smoke while he kneaded the cat’s shoulder muscles.
I need to get to bed, he thought, looking at the time stamp over the tridee image. He hadn’t slept much the last couple of nights, and even with nanite augmentation, a body eventually had to have a good night’s sleep. Getting up he walked to the kitchen, picked up the now empty bowl and turned it over the disposal, letting the last crumbs of food slide off the surface, then put the bowl back in the cabinet.
He slid into the bed next to Katlyn, trying not to disturb her. She woke up anyway, and turned over with a sleepy smile on her face. She’s so beautiful, he thought, wondering how an average looking guy like himself had gotten together with her, much less gotten married. Might be because we had been friends for so many years. He had known her since they were toddlers, and just felt comfortable with her the whole time they were growing up.
“You’re home late,” she said, putting her arms around her neck.
“Parker lost his job today,” said Cornelius, running a hand down her arm.
“He made a comment about the Baron,” said Cornelius, shaking his head. “And it got back to the man himself, when he was touring the plant.”
“The idiot,” said Katlyn, her hands going to her mouth in shock. “What the hell was he thinking?”
“He wasn’t,” said Cornelius. Everyone knew in their society not to insult the nobles. According to the constitution of the Empire they had equal rights, nobles and commons. But the nobles still had privilege, in part due to their position in the governance of the Empire. And in part because of their family interconnectedness and wealth. It would be different out on the frontier, he thought, then remembered that some of those differences could be deadly. New Detroit was a core world, and as such was well defended. “And even worse,” he said, feeling rage rise in him at the thought of the nobles and what they could do. “He got arrested for assault.”
“So he’s totally ruined his life,” said Katlyn. “No work for him, doomed to be a Dole Rat for the rest of his life.”
“At least he won’t starve,” said Cornelius, knowing that he wouldn’t want to be a Rat himself. You didn’t starve, but you also didn’t really live, other than what you could get vicariously through the trivee. If you could afford the upgrade nanites to keep up with the transmission systems. “And there’s always the frontier.”
Katlyn shuddered as he said that and he held her tighter. “It might be the only way we’re going to get a reproductive license. You want a child.”
Katlyn looked up at him with a tear streaked face. “I want a half dozen, but I know I’m never going to get that many. Can’t your father help us?”
We’ll get a license to have a child when we’re both over a hundred, thought Cornelius. People didn’t get reproductive licenses at a young age on a core world, which were all at the legal population limit. Not unless you had some great skill, like a scientist, or were one of the nobles. If they were lucky they could have a child in early middle age, when they reached that hundred year marker. His father had been able to have two children, but only because he had the patronage of the Duke.
“Would the frontier really be that horrible?” he asked.
“Hold me,” she said, and she gripped him tight. He held her, and things progressed until they were making love. There was no danger of pregnancy, not while their nanites were programed to prevent such.