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Science Fiction Adventure Crime

It was a pleasant summer morning in the quiet new town of Tabitha, Vermont., where Randy was sitting on a crate in his sparsely greened front lawn experimenting with his new witchcraft license. It was the newest rage of the privileged boroughs. Concentrating, he held his hands out in a particular fashion commanding a surge of blue fire to spark and crackle in a swirling blue aura. With a thrust of his palms, he directed the conjured force at a nearby tree whereupon it beamed out to cover the entire height before flickering away. Perfect!

As a young man of sixteen, barely mature, he groused at the knowledge that he wasn’t able to blast the tree into smithereens. Those actions would have been as frowned upon as if he, back in the day, had been popping off shots from a fifteen-round purloined Walther PPK 40. The expert system governing his town wouldn’t allow him to blow up anything. Weapons of any kind were prohibited in any towns segregated as privileged. Police had been disbanded years ago and now high and unseen drones were provided to keep watch. They dispensed immediate justice lasering the perpetrator who was quickly dragged off by a droid and deposited in an unmarked shallow grave in what was known as potters’ field. Crudely, they were then dug up by wolves and redeposited in bits on plats across the town.

“Randy! Get in here. Now!” his mother cried out from their single room home.

Screening hadn’t been distributed for quite a while, at least two decades, so a sheet covered the entry, the top glued to the lintel to extend downward to the cement floor. Not that it mattered, the windows had to be opened as wide as possible and undraped to provide as much relief as possible from the heat.

“Here, read a book,” she ordered, indicating one of the three chairs they had; this one in a corner of concrete block walls under the patched tin roof. She lit the tallow candle, needed for reading even during the day, and hung it from its’ hook then passed him a clandestine copy of ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ which he had reread dozens of times. Having done this procedure often before, he assumed the position.

“What happened?” he asked.

“16 shot dead in Sammytown,” she told him.

Sammytown was their sister borough. The populations were even at half a million in each borough but Sammytown was an underprivileged area. There are no workers or stores or commerce but the law remains and the lawyers polluted the computers with it before that profession also went away. As a result, new luxury apartments were built in Sammytown and rebuilt every five years. The robotic workforce also supplied them with electricity for heat and air and lights but not for refrigeration or cooking. Sammytown residents were fed in opulent buffets. In Tabitha, a minimal delivery of dry goods brought by a robotic cart was dumped in the yard weekly. Weapons were banned in Sammytown too, by law, but somehow the enforcement was turned off.

The neighborhood communicator, similar to a  CB radio and powered by a rooftop solar cell, buzzed out “Fourteen” before going quiet again.

“I’ve seen worse,” remarked the young man to his mother, effecting a glare from her. The count had been 24 just yesterday.

Having heard the reasoning behind equity more times than he could count he was almost convinced of its validity. A stupid and short turf war in Sammytown had resulted in sixteen senseless deaths so, to be fair, sixteen children of Tabitha had to go. If the drones couldn’t find their targets among the lanes they would destroy random houses until the debt was paid. When the law was first enacted the lawyers tried to humanely lessen the pain, so the unlucky are quickly burned in half.

“Grandma told me about how it started in the schools,” his mother said.

“When what started?” Randy asked.

He was teasing her having heard the story over and over again. It started in the schools where the underprivileged group scored poorer than their privileged co-students. A law was enacted demanding the two groups score equally - equity. Teachers, as hard as they tried, couldn’t get the poor graders to improve. With no other choice, they muddied the waters of the achievers. 

Next came medicine where the government took control of life-saving quantities. The underprivileged don’t fare as well as those privileged enough to take care of themselves, so doctors, pharmacies, and hospitals were forced, by law, to identify and then limit treatment of the privileged, killing them until the dead of the two groups reached an equitable number.

“If it wasn’t for the computers, we would be dead!” she enthused.

He shook his head in reluctant agreement but stayed put behind the laser-proof walls.

“Six,” squawked the radio.

Randy knew they were lucky in that the food supply, food delivery, supply chain, and some factories went fully automated shortly after the laws of the free world turned to serve the underprivileged. 

There was a swoosh at the door and Sheila ran in, tossing the drape to one side. She is a pretty girl with questing brown eyes and a sprinkle of freckles under a clean brown mop pulled back into a ponytail. At fourteen her girlish curves promised a woman of stature.

“What are you doing! Are you trying to get yourself killed?” Randy chided loudly while rising to meet her.

“I heard you got your magic license!” she enthused, ignoring his protests. Randys’ mother shook her head and moved to the side, busying herself with preparing the hard beans for boiling.

“I did! And I made a blue flame,” he told her.

“Zero,” the radio sputtered before it shut off for a while.

“Show me,” she demanded and they both stepped out into the front area. Randy repeated the incantation and the tree held the magical flame before it flickered out. Sheila squealed in delight before they heard a creaking device traversing the lane.

“Let’s see who it is,” requested Sheila.

“Might as well,” Randy reluctantly agreed and they walked across three blocks until they saw the cart trundling up the dirt trail. It’s load, a seven, eight-year-old girl faced them with an expression of regret, pain, and hopelessness frozen onto her face. Her pieces were carelessly stacked and they could distinguish a bloodied summer dress with no shoes.

“I don’t know her,” Sheila said.

They both turned to walk back together in silence.

“Play a movie for me,” Sheila requested causing Randy to draw a blank.

“You know. Books that move. You’ve heard of them, I’m sure.”

It was necessary to demonstrate familiarity with the index to obtain the magic license but Randy wasn't yet good with it. He gestured and a directory appeared in the air in blue fire. With his finger, he pointed his way deeper into the array until he found a selection. To his delight, when activated, a screen appeared before them, and ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou’ began. They watched, standing and enthralled for the entire duration.

“Wow! That was something!” enthused Sheila. “Did you understand what was going on?”

“Nope. Did you see the countryside? The houses, the stores, and the cars?”

“Did you hear them singing? Did you see that gun?” she said and they stopped in thought.

“I wonder if I could scare one of those up?” he said. 

She nodded in the affirmative and he looked it up and gave it a try. At their feet, encased in a blue aura, materialized a Thompson M1928 submachine gun.

“Good God, get rid of it!” shouted Sheila, dancing about.

Randy knew that incantation and in a swoop and thrust the weapon disappeared.

“Wow, that was close,” breathed Sheila.

“I wonder if that disappearing spell only works on things I materialize?” he asked. He cast the spell onto his tree and, as expected, nothing happened.

“I think the area enchantment program is broken,” she mused.

“Right. I don’t think they intended to give us this!”

“Let’s go inside and sit in the chairs to watch another movie; this one with your mother?” she instructed as a question. Once inside they placed a movie order, a random one. They got ‘Pumpkin Head II: Blood Wings’ and watched it through.

“That was stupid,” Randy’s mom said at the end.

“Yeah, but still, movies are really cool,” Sheila added and everyone agreed

“You two go outside and play until supper is ready. Sheila, will you stay for dinner?” Randy’s mother offered.

Sheila declined politely as was the custom. Everyone had limited food and it wasn’t fair to eat someone else's share.

“Conjure up a pumpkin head,” Sheila asked slyly.

“You are a rascal! What would I do with a monster like that?” Randy asked. Still, the idea intrigued him.

“OK,” he said. He tried looking in the directory but couldn’t find it. He did locate a custom tab and did his best to describe what was wanted, with his limited abilities, and cast. A mist formed in front of them and shortly the monster took shape within.

“Damn!” said the monster when the mist cleared. Sheila shrieked loud enough to wake the dead causing Randy’s mother to run out the door. She yelps too and both women found refuge in the others’ arms, trembling in fear.

It was Randy’s monster and he felt some responsibility; he stood his ground.

“What did you say?” he asked.

“I said damn as in ‘I didn’t want to be animated as a damn monster’ kind of damn,” the monster quipped while testing his demonishly scaly legs, lifting one after the other. Unlike the movie this guy was naked. Naked, hairy, and disgustingly male.

“Do you have some pants? Hmm, I guess Eddie Bauer’s are out of the question,” the monster mouthed, an oddly concerned expression in its serpentine eyes behind the green extended snout of sharp incisors. It looked them over dispassionately.

“You’re going to be a cutey,” it said as it focused on Sheila for a moment before returning its’ attention to Randy.

“Who are you? What are you?” Randy asked as his nerve hardened.

“To answer both questions, I’m a simulacrum of George Wallace. When George died in 2026 his personality and memories were copied into a computer. What you see is a projection built on that data. On top of all that is the projection of the being that you asked for,” the monster explained rationally.

“He asked for Pumpkin Head,” Sheila interjected.

“Oh, heh! That explains it! Heh! Jeez, you couldn’t ask for Clark Gable or Brad Pitt? Heh!”

“So you’re not going to eat us like in the movie?” Randy asked.

“Rest assured that I am not. Also, I can not. I’m a projection. See for yourself, you can put a hand right through me. I can’t bite or hit you or lift anything to conk you with!”

“I should magic you back, just to be sure,” spoke Randy aloud to see what the others thought. They just shrugged. He looked at George.

“I don’t care. I’m not alive. What is this about magic, though? Don’t you understand what’s going on?” The blank looks he met compelled George to continue.

“About this magic stuff. Don’t you know that your computer, the one that runs the borough, has installed tiny mics and actuators? Your computer sees your hand gestures and hears your words, your spells, and then makes those things happen.”

“I really thought it was magic,” Randy uttered.

“You know, that computer stuff makes sense,” chipped in Sheila.

“Is there something wrong with the magic subroutine?” Randys’ mom asked.

“Good question sweetie!” the monster announced and Randy saw his mother blush for the first time in her hard knocks life.

“By the way, I only have this one pair of pants,” Randy said.

“I see. Yes, you are poor, poor, poor. My mainframe is filling in the history for me a byte at a time. You live in equity gone mad! It was getting bad when I died. The ruling Junta arranged to keep power long enough to vilify the opposition while they mismanaged a complete societal crash.”

“But weren’t the leaders privileged?” Randy asked, curious.

“Very. Elite. There was a groundswell of criminality among the swollen population of the underprivileged and some privileged people and corporations felt they could control this for their own benefit, betraying civil discourse. After the criminals were allowed to vandalize the privileged they turned on and destroyed those that first kowtowed to their demands.”

“Were there that many corrupt people then?” asked Sheila.

“I guess not. Most just followed the talking points, followed the herd over the cliff. Other’s had high faluting ideas of better systems but in the end, there were just too many criminals.”

“I’m a nice enough guy to cooperate with my neighbors to build civilized things. Maybe we should have killed the criminals before they got out of hand,” Randy offered.

“Maybe. That’s one way that rulers kept power, and advanced civilization, for centuries. But, I just couldn’t do it., when I lived. There must be a better way,” the monster said, scratching absently. “But back on topic, yes, there is something wrong with the subroutine. It’s a virus that has already seized power across the world.”

“That’s crazy! Will the food supply break down? Will the drones decide to eliminate us? Will everything stop working? How did our program get infected? Where did the virus come from?” Sheila asked the questions they were all thinking.

“Well, things aren’t going to break down. Actually, things might get much better. I have George’s sensibilities which are on your side. I can also access the intent of the virus and find it to be OK. I’m guessing you are being helped by aliens that infected your hardware.”

As compelling as the visage of George is the groups’ attention was diverted by the sound of approaching motorcycles. Those who lived to be called adults in Sammytown were too beaten down by drugs and alcohol to mount anything with two wheels. These mounts would be ridden by the young and wild. Pistol shots could be heard. Those from Tabitha were restricted from crossing their boundary but those from Sammytown had no such obstacles.

“Let’s get inside,” shrilled Randy’s mother.

“Why?” asked George.

“If those thugs come by this house they will probably shoot us. Sometimes they take girls; some they damage and others are never seen again. Unless they hit a soft spot the house will stop a bullet,” Sheila said while backing toward the door.

“Hm, I must show you how things have changed. Can you make a force shield with your new magic?” the monster asked as the rumble grew in volume.

Reluctantly Randy and the two women huddled to George’s side while Randy looked up and then spit out the proper words. A shimmering blue-tinted yet transparent screen formed around them.

“That looks bulletproof to me,” Goerge comforted. 

The gang drove by. There were three cycles, three men and one woman in the pillion. One of the men lazily aimed a few shots from a nine in their direction to no effect. They drove past but then turned and came back, parking their cycles near. They drew their handguns from their belts as they dismounted, the leader aiming at Randy before firing a full clip. Bullets pinged into the house blocks and ricocheted off the force field but the people remained unhurt. No telling what the bikers first thought when they saw George but closer now, they paused.

“Wha dis shi,” a large thug mumbled, pointing his gun. Without consideration, the entire group emptied their weapons at the simulation making a horrendous racket and littering the yard with spent brass.

Not the brightest bulbs, they gave the calm demon a wide berth and advanced on a cowering Sheila. Not able to penetrate the transparent shield they pounded it relentlessly with filth pouring from their mouths the likes of which had never before been heard by Randy.

“Are you going to allow these low lives to harass your girl?” George asked benignly.

Randy blinked a few times in disbelief. “What about the drones?” he asked.

“I told you, things have changed,” George stated.

In answer, one of the never-before-seen machines dropped from above to land in front of them, startling the thugs. They backed off for a moment.

“You haven’t got all day,” George warned.

Randy also had to demonstrate a fetch to get his license and he used that knowledge to gather the red tube with a bulbous end from the flying machine. He pulled it through the barrier before the motley crew could interfere. Furious now, the felons resumed their verbal and physical attack. Unsure, the boy pointed the tube and squeezed the bulb. He reflexively jerked the beam across the abusive thugs sawing all four of them into two halves. 

The strong laser cauterized flesh as it cut a swath through the center of mass and the four unprivileged weren’t dead. Although the raw flesh didn’t bleed, it seeped.  They would be dead soon enough; the privileged had no medical help anywhere but even the tremendous resources of Sammytown wouldn’t be able to save these people.

Most had lost both hands, cut off a bit above the wrist, and they writhed around on the ground by flexing their shoulders. They could still talk in their limited fashion and begged, whined, and cried. Randy, his mother, and Sheila all watched the grisly scene as the doomed bodies slowed among the pile of parts.

“I thought you said we shouldn’t kill them?” Randy asked George.

“I said I didn’t have the heart to exterminate them. Everyone is entitled to defend themselves.”

January 14, 2022 22:37

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6 comments

Sheryl Thomasson
02:20 Jan 27, 2022

Well John, I watch a lot of science fiction, but rarely read it. After reading your story, I realize I have been neglecting an interesting genre! Well done! Imaginative and fun to read! Thanks!

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John Hanna
00:34 Jan 28, 2022

Thanks, Sheryl, I do get good feedback but yours makes me feel appreciated.

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Lore Ax Horton
17:43 Jan 24, 2022

Refreshing, different story!

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John Hanna
00:53 Jan 25, 2022

Thanks, Lore, I guess it isn't everyone's favorite but I'm glad you found some value in it.

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Boutat Driss
10:47 Jan 24, 2022

Well done! I loved it.

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John Hanna
00:53 Jan 25, 2022

Thanks, Boutat, for reading the story and, I guess, liking it.

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