Disclaimer: All characters taken from Space Above & Beyond belong to Fox Network, that show's writers and producers.
The book Shane is by Jack Schaefer no copyright infringement intended.

The Early Years


Phyllis Christie

In-Vitro Facility Anchorage, Alaska July 1, 2036

 The light in the room flashed on, waking the six month fetus in the large tank filled with warm gestational fluid.  The unborn boy moved easily in the wet world of his existence, kicking and flaying  his arms, no differently than a child in the womb.   But unlike his counter part in the natural born world, the effects of added growth hormones were already beginning to show on this in-vitro child.  In another month the boy would be the size of an 18 month old.

  He blinked his large blue eyes at the two men that stopped beside his tank to take preliminary readings.  He could hear the sounds of their voices through the water and plastic, they reminded him of the noises produced by the subliminal training that had begun the week before.

 "This one looks promising," the taller of the men commented to his companion.  "Make a note of it, Charlie, number 2025, gene pool 13C kappa 9757."

 "Yes, Sir," the young man followed the older one down the rows of gestation tubes.  When they were through, he breathed a sigh of relief,  only three to be deleted today, he thought.  It looked like he would be home in time for dinner, after all.

In-Vitro Facility, Anchorage, Alaska July 1, 2042

 Charlie moved up and down the rows of tanks he was monitoring.  This was the first batch of artificially gestated humans that he had worked on from conception.  He had joined Aerotech straight out of graduate school, eight years ago.  He was proud of the job he had done.  Of the 200 in-vitros that had started their gestation two years after his arrival, 100 hundred remained.  It looked as if Aerotech was finally getting the bugs out of the system.  A fifty percent survival rate was much higher than the normal twenty percent.

 The baby that had been number 2025, gene pool 13C Kappa 9757, was now a fully grown man.  Unknown to Charlie or any of the other workers at the Anchorage Facility, they were being watched.  Watched by one of their charges.

 The blond haired, blued eyed in-vitro took note of the man as he moved out of his field of vision.  The bright lights had awakened him and he liked the feeling of his limbs moving gently through the water.  His mind was moving much faster than his arms or legs.

 He couldn't remember when he began thinking in words.  At first there had only been the messages that stimulated his brain from the subliminal teaching device attached to his neck navel.  Eventually those became words.  He didn't know when his mind had moved from listening to the words that the Monitors were sending him to understanding them.  But the words had been his key to his understanding.   With them his world of water and sound had expanded.  Now, even if the teaching devices were turned off,  words would float through his consciousness.

 Recently a new word had been fighting its way to the front of his mind:  'why.'  Always in the past, the Monitors would send him more information about a difficult word, but not this time.  He had learned 'gun.'  Then they had sent him what it was used for and how it was used, finally all the different kinds of guns.  But they were silent on 'why.'

 He had begun to think that 'why' hadn't come from the Monitors.  But if not from them, then from who?  Was this  independent thinking?  His arms and legs began to move in quick jerky movements, mirroring his mind's agitation at the unanswered questions.  When his hand bumped lightly on the wall of his world, he forced his body to relax, while his mind worked.
  There were times when his link to the outer world removed things from his brain.  He hated those times because he ceased to exist.  He would feel thought began to shut down, until there was nothing.  He didn't think he was sleeping, because too often he would awaken from those blank times and the teaching would be ringing through his brain.  Always the same word over and over again: control!

 He floated quietly as he said it to himself:  control.  That was one lesson the Monitors had taught him well.  He had learned over time that if he didn't control himself, they would.

In-Vitro Facility Anchorage, Alaska September 18, 2042

 Bright lights flashed and sounds exploded in Number 2025, gene pool 13C Kappa 9757's ears, sounds he'd never heard before.  Then suddenly he was falling, sliding, landing on a cold table, water was rushing all around him.

 "Ahhhhhhhhh," he screamed as he was hit by the sensations of cold and fear.  What was happening to him?  Were was the comforting water, his warmth and protection?  "Ahhhhhhhhhh," his lungs filled as he screamed again, his arms flailing, he began to kick out.  No matter how hard he fought for the control he remembered from the past, it wouldn't come as sensations he couldn't name and didn't understand overpowered him.

 "Grab him, grab him," Charlie call out.  "Hold him down while we suction him.  We've only lost three so far today, and I want to keep it that way."

 The men did as they were instructed, while another man suctioned the in-vitro's airway.  "All clear, it looks like this ones going to make it.  Name?" one of the techs called out to Charlie.

 "He's listed as McQueen, Tyrus Cassius," the young genetic engineer checked his pocket computer.

 "Dr. Benton, don't you think that's quite a mouthful for a Tank," the technician grinned at Charlie.

 "Stow it Gibson, we still have ten more to decant today.  ID him and get him to processing.  This batch has already been contracted to the mines on Omicron Draconis."

In-Vitro Training Facility, Anchorage, Alaska October 12, 2042

 Ninety-five in-vitros sat in neat rows listening to the Monitor lecture.  It was to be their last  lecture on Earth.  Tomorrow, at 0700, the space transport Blackhawk would be taking them to their new home in the mines of the asteroid belt trailing Omicron Draconis.  The trip out would be spent finishing the In-Vitro Training that had started following processing on Decantation Day

 "There  is only now!  This minute, this breath.  What happened in the past is gone, never to be regained.  To think of it only wastes time and energy.  What is to come is in the hands of the Monitors.  Do not concern yourselves with it."  The voice droned on repeating the same things over and over again.

 The man whose designation was now McQueen, TC, sat at attention at his table.  He refused to look to either side of him or to acknowledge the two empty seats to his right.  His entire focus was on the Monitor as he spoke.  To see those empty chairs would be to admit that yesterday, beings like himself had sat there.  Beings who had disappeared in the night.  As the thought moved through McQueen's mind, he tried to clamp down on it, but he couldn't.  He saw what had happened yesterday when the man directly to his right had raised his hand and asked the Monitor that dreadful word, "why?"  The word had been repeated by the man further down.  It had taken all of McQueen's strength to keep from adding his own question, but he had stopped himself.  So now, where three men had sat, there was only one.

 '*The Monitor was wrong,' McQueen thought, as the blasphemy of the idea rocked him.  '*There was much to be gained from remembering what had happened in the past.*'

Asteroid Belt Mines Around Omicron Draconis,  July 2044

 Of the ninety-five in-vitros that had started work mining the asteroids that trailed the double binary that was Omicron Draconis, only forty were still alive.  They were worked for sixteen hours with one break for lunch.  When they fell into their bunks at night, they were too exhausted to do anything except sleep.  This was the life that McQueen had known for the two years he had been in existence.  The peaceful memories of his time in the tank were like a dream that had happened to someone else.

 It was late and he was stumbling back to the barracks that held the dwindling number of in-vitros, when he stopped to pick up some trash someone had left behind.  His first thought being, '*maybe there was some extra food.*"

 Reaching into the crumpled bag he found empty sandwich wrappers.  Then his fingers touched something strange.  Turning his back so that he was in the shadows, he pulled the object from the bag.  It was an old paperback book.  He had never seen the likes before.  His hands trembled as he quickly stuffed it in his coat and left the area.  The book had belonged to one of the Monitors, he was sure of that, but it had been thrown away with the remains of a snack.  McQueen was sure this was something that he shouldn't have, but he was even more sure that it was something that he had to have.

 After the Monitor did his nightly bed check, McQueen crawled quietly out of his bunk and sat in the corner by the window, where the light from the corridor shone into the room.  He pulled out the book, Shane by Jack Schaefer.  McQueen read the title a second time then looked at the picture on the front cover.  It was of a man dressed in black, looking tough and serious.  He was reaching for a gun as a storm brew around him, but the look on his face was deadly calm.

 He read a few pages that night, savoring each as he went.  He realized that his mind had been as hungry for what was in the book as his belly had been for extra food when he had searched through the empty snack bag.  McQueen spent three months reading and rereading Shane.  It was filled with new words: mother, father, kid, family.  And new ideas:  right, wrong, weak over coming strong.  But there was something very familiar about the man it told of, this Shane.  He was a man alone, someone who had no one and came from nowhere.  He was doing lesser tasks because he was looked down upon.  At first McQueen had thought Shane was an in-vitro, but the book didn't mention his kind or Monitors, just people.

 Then Shane changed.  He was a man of great strength, a man who fought evil.  McQueen could feel the longing in Shane to stay in the quiet peace of the family that had taken him in, but this Shane did the impossible, he turned into a Warrior to save them.  It was something that was unheard of in McQueen's world.   A man with a quiet strength that gave his all for the things he believed in and that he *felt.*

 Over the next three years, the tattered copy of Shane stayed hidden in McQueen's possessions.  The book was a small window on a world that he hadn't known existed.  It was a world the in-vitro wanted very much to be a part of, but first he needed to survive the one he lived in, now.  Slowly a change had begun taking place in the man who had read the book.  It was almost a year before McQueen realized that he was looking at things through the eyes of the man he believed Shane to be.   Whatever  perspective that added,  didn't fail him, because he was one of seven in-vitros to walk out of the mines of Omicron Draconis' asteroid belt, in the Fall of 2047.

Space Carrier Blackhawk, en route to Earth October 2047

 McQueen lay in his bunk wondering if he had made the right decision.  After leaving the mines, Aerotech had told the seven in-vitros they were free, their indentured servitude over.  Since they were free men they were expected to pay their passage back to Earth.  They were given a choice, two more years in the mines to earn the credits for the passage or join the Marine Corps.  There was a war on and they were needed.

 At the time it seemed to McQueen that it was providence calling him.  He would be a Warrior, fight for what was right.  That had been before he had joined the fifty other men heading for Earth to fight.  Unlike most of the other men on the ship, McQueen was in-vitro.  For the first time he was learning exactly what that meant.  In the few days he had traveled he was taught more about hate than he had been in the last five years.

November 2047, Camp Pendelton Marine Base, Boot Camp
 In Boot Camp, McQueen discovered three things that changed his life forever, the Pacific Ocean, a library,  and a little old man who thought of him as an equal.

  The first time he saw the Pacific, it took his breath away.  He didn't realize it was so vast.  Space was huge, but it was punctuated by stars and it was silent and still.  The endless body of moving water was alive and spoke to him in a language he understood.  Part of him longed to be covered by the water and feel it against his skin.  The sounds of the waves picked at a deep buried memory.  In the memory he was floating and warm, but that was as much as he could recall.

 The Marines in the 110th In-Vitro Platoon were encouraged to read  the books on the carefully scrutinized, 'Approved For In-Vitros Reading List.'  McQueen spent extra time at the computer he was allowed to use, reading.  He was disappointed to discover that Shane wasn't on that list.  He had been forced to leave his one book back in the barracks in the mines.  He was sure it never would have passed the tight security each man had been given on leaving.

 On his first afternoon off, McQueen headed into the small sea side town that could be accessed by bus.  As he walked down Del Mar Avenue, heading for the beach, he saw an old restored building on his right.  LIBRARY OF THE CITY OF SAN CLEMENTE, the old sign read.  He could feel his blood quicken as the words filled his brain.  Was this a real library?

 He walked in the front door of the building and found a very old man sitting at the large desk facing the door.

 "Sure you didn't take a wrong turn, young fella?"  The man asked.  "Most you Marines head for the bars on Camino Royal, or the beach," he squiggled his bushy eyebrows and winked at the in-vitro.

 "No, Sir," McQueen stood very straight, unable to take his eyes off the rows and rows of books.  "This is the library isn't it?"

 "Sure is.  Most people now-a-days, just want to use their computers,"  the old man shook his head in disgust.  "Now me, I like to feel what I'm reading.  There's nothing like the weight of a book in your hands.  The way the binding feels against your skin and the smooth feel of pages as you turn them."

 "Do you have a copy of Shane?"

 "Sure do," the old man came from around the desk and led the way into the large room that was filled with bookshelves.  "That was one of my favorites when I was a kid.  I almost forgot about it.  I guess I'm going to have to read it again,"  as the man walked on he hadn't noticed that the young Marine had stopped and stood in awe of his surroundings.

 "Here's the book," the old man handed McQueen the first hardbound book he had ever held.  "Say, you one of those made-up people?"  The man had taken a good look at the Marine and knew there was something different about him.

 "In-vitro, Sir,"  McQueen stood at attention, hoping he wasn't going to be asked to leave.

 "Well, I'll be," he shook his head.  "I've read about 'em, but never thought I'd meet one."  He could see the uncertainty in the young person's eyes and smiled, "it doesn't make me no never mind.  The Missus, God rest her soul, and I couldn't have children.  I know it would have pleased her no end to have had one of you to mother."  He could tell his comment had made the Marine uncomfortable, though he hadn't meant it that way.   "Young man, you look around, if there is anything I can help you with let me know."

 "Yes, Sir," he watched the old man make his way slowly back to the desk by the door.  McQueen didn't know what to say to the man, so he followed a rule that was fast becoming ingrained.  '*When in doubt, say nothing at all.*'  The old man was right, there was something wonderful about the site and feel of all the books.

 McQueen left the library two hours later, his head spinning from the heady experience of being treated like an equal and the scent and feel of real books.  For as long as he lived, he was never able to completely separate the two.

 Two days later McQueen woke up in Sickbay.  He had been mugged and beaten while walking back from the Mess Hall late at night.  The Armed Forces Network had carried the news:  in-vitros were refusing to fight in the Artificial Intelligence war.  Every where recently freed in-vitros were sitting out the war, often in the brig or stockade, rather than fight in a war that they declared was not their war.   And everywhere indignant natural-borns were retaliating with hate and prejudice.

 Laying in bed that first night in Sickbay, the young Marine was filled with anger, but he knew he had to keep it hidden.  He didn't understand what was going on around him, but vowed to find out.

Watch for DEFINING MOMENTS, THE WAR YEARS.  Next in the series to come.

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