|All characters and the premise of Space, Above and Beyond are the property of Glenn Morgan and James Wong, and Hard Eight Pictures, Inc. and are use herein without permission. No copyright infringement is intended. All rights remain with the owners, creators and gods of SAAB. The characters of Alan Gilmoore, Thresher and Ashley-Duke are the creation of the author.|
NC17 rated (m/m) NC
THE JERICHO CHRONICLES:
Alan Gilmoore removed his glasses and rubbed at his burning eyes. It was late, he knew that much but, as usual, he had lost all track of time and the exact hour eluded him. The clock on the wall was only a blur. He replaced his glasses. 3:15am. Not that it really mattered. He didn't punch a timecard. Never had to go into the office at all, really. His presence on this hellish world was just a formality required by his contract. Corolis Mining could say that they had medical facilities available. They didn't care if the facilities were ever actually used or not. He had only to exist to draw his paycheck, no questions asked. In the beginning, that had appealed to him. After everything that had happened, he no longer cared if he practiced medicine or not. Most of the establishment back on Earth agreed with him, so he had been fortunate to secure this or any post.
Post? Exile? Prison? Whatever you wanted to call it, it was home, at least for now. He should have known something was wrong when the review committee made no mention of the recent notations on his record. Hell, he was as much a slave here as any of those poor devils down in the mines. All he had to do was deviate one iota from the company 'line' and he was quickly reminded that he was lucky to be anywhere, much less drawing the kind of salary Corolis was paying him. The fact that there was no place for him to spend any of that glorious salary was beside the point. He tossed down the remainder of the Chivas Regal and put both the glass and the bottle back in the cabinet. His lips twitched mirthlessly. For medicinal purposes only, of course. Only his particular affliction was incurable. Not terminal, no. God would never be so merciful. The treatment was only palliative. He patted the bottle, then closed and locked the door.
Gilmoore stretched to relieve the stiffened muscles in his back. Tired. Hell, yes he was tired, but never enough to welcome sleep. The dreams came when he was asleep. They came back when he was asleep. He paced to the window. Damn. Even at night, the sky had an orange tinge. Surely Omicron Draconis was hell. His hell. He went over it again and again in his mind, noting all the things he could have done, should have done. But he always ended up back at what he had done.
It should have been the happiest of times for he and his young wife. The birth of a child was always cause for celebration and Kathryn had been happier than he had ever seen her, even during the last uncomfortable months. It was true, he had been preoccupied with his career as one of the foremost heart surgeons on Earth, but he had been just as excited as she about his impending parenthood. It had been an uneventful pregnancy and the time had passed quickly, seminars, lectures and surgeries interspersed with the choosing of wallpaper patterns and picking out baby furniture. There were two transplants, two bypasses and an angioplasty scheduled the day of the birth and that had kept him busy running back and forth between the surgical floor and the delivery wing until his son put in his appearance a little past noon. He had time for just the briefest look at the delicate, beautiful face before running back upstairs again, stopping by a phone to order flowers for his wife as he did so. If he had lingered a little longer he might have spotted the problem himself, not that it would have done any good. Nothing would have done any good. As it was, it wasn't until late afternoon that someone noticed something was wrong.
All thoughts of sleep forgotten, Gilmoore wandered over to the infirmary. He had begun checking in more and more frequently of late, in spite of his professed disinterest. He hated to admit it, but the InVitros fascinated him. Although engineered to be superior than their natural born counterparts, they were invariably treated as the lowest form of life. No doubt the result of man's fear that he may have created his own successor. He wondered again at Corolis' preference for InVitros over the Artificial Intelligence models more commonly used on Earth. The AIs were durable, dependable and, more importantly, blindly obedient. Of course, InVitros were less expensive initially, which probably explained the choice. He looked around the infirmary. Although IVs naturally required more to maintain, they needed food and rest after all, your wouldn't know it from Corolis' financial records. Almost every IV in camp was malnourished and dehydrated. He shook his head. Poor damn devils. He didn't want to care about them. He didn't want to care about anyone anymore. But he did.
Gilmoore walked to the first bed and scanned the chart. Broken shoulder, three broken ribs and a broken leg. Caught in a tunnel collapse. It was hard to believe but this one would be back at work in the pits in a few weeks and back in the shafts in a few more. Benedict Charles Beaufort. Out of the tank for two years. The long dark lashes flickered against the coffee colored skin as the boy slept. Boy. He had the body of a man for all that he had only drawn breath for two years. To Gilmoore, they were all boys. Most of them would never live to be anything more.
The chart at the next bed belonged to Alexander Martin Calbeda. 21. Broken collarbone, contusions. Advanced Venereal disease. Christ. Plus the big three that they all had, but which no one ever bothered to write down on the chart. Malnutrition, dehydration and exhaustion. He sighed. This was no kind of life for anyone. They said the InVitros didn't notice, they were doing what they were bred for and didn't know anything else. "They" said IVs didn't feel any of the things "real" humans felt. "They" said InVitros, "tanks" as they were called, didn't really feel pain, or hunger, or thirst or exhaustion. "They" said InVitros didn't have an imagination and that was why they didn't dream. Gilmoore had never met "They", but he thought if he ever did he might have a serious disagreement with "them". A very serious disagreement.
He replaced the chart carefully and moved to pick up the next one and felt the bile begin to rise in his throat. The boy had been raped and beaten and had been more dead than alive when he was brought in. He looked again at the chart. Oh, Jesus. Less than three weeks out of the tank. None of them were virgin at six months but this....this made him physically ill. He knew that tanks didn't have the same inhibitions regarding sex as natural borns, how could they? Considering their existence here, why should they? It was one thing if there was consent, rape was entirely a different matter. Gilmoore looked down at the still figure on the cot and sighed. He would have to release him tomorrow, no bones had been broken. He was an InVitro and Corolis would insist that his accelerated healing would take care of the rest. Poor kid. He hoped the boy would watch his back better this time. They learned fast in the mines. Or they died. He reached to replace the chart.
Gilmoore paused. He hadn't realized the patient was awake.
Gilmoore glanced again at the chart, then turned to meet the clear blue eyes, now clouded with pain. Tyrus Cassius McQueen. Arrived two and a half weeks earlier with a batch of 34 from the Anchorage, Alaska facility and 'decanted' a day later.
"Yes, McQueen. What is it? You should be sleeping."
"I can't seem to sleep, sir. I.....hurt. Can I have some water, please?"
The voice was soft and slightly husky. Gilmoore regarded the slight figure. Soft sandy blonde curls framed clean cut chiseled feature, the most striking of which were a pair of magnificent soulful blue eyes. The boy was beautiful. Gilmoore found himself wondering who was behind the assault, the guards or the boy's own kind. He poured a glass of water and passed it to McQueen. The young InVitro slammed down the liquid then held out the glass for a refill.
"Please. Can I have some more, sir?"
Gilmoore was moved in spite of himself. As the lad drank, he reached out to ruffle the sandy curls. The boy smiled up at him shyly.
"It's good. Cool."
'Eighteen,' Gilmoore thought, 'he could be my son.' If I still had a son.'
"You can have as much as you want, McQueen," he found himself saying. He produced a small white tablet from a case in his pocket. "Take this, it will help you sleep."
"Will I dream?" The blue eyes were wide, guileless.
"I don't know......Tyrus. But at least you will sleep tonight."
"TC", Gilmoore called, "will you bring my stethoscope? It's on my duty desk."
"Yes, Dr. Gilmoore." came the soft reply.
"Pretty little thing, isn't he doctor?" John Thresher was easily the most brutal of the two overseers in the camp. "Was that what rekindled your interest in anatomy and made you suddenly decide you needed an orderly?"
Gilmoore fixed the burly overseer with an icy stare. "That's mighty brave of you, Thresher. Especially since I haven't started putting the stitches in yet."
"Relax, Doc," Thresher sneered, "no one is condemning you here. He's a tasty piece, anyone can tell. We're a long way from Earth here, far enough away that no one pays any attention to Earth's pansy morality. If it feels good, do it, I always say. I was just wondering if you might like to make a trade. Oh, just temporary like, mind you. I've got a hot little number you might be interested in, and I wouldn't mind sampling this one while he's still fresh, you might say. How about it?"
"Thresher, I'm going to say this just once, so you'd better listen. You keep your hands off Tyrus. You touch him, just once, and I'll know about it. And I'll make you pay. Do you understand me? Leave the boy alone."
"All right, all right! That good is he? But you just remember this, doctor. You ain't so high and mighty and one of these days you're going to need something from me. Something only I can get for you or do for you. And I will remember this. You'll deal with me then, you'll see."
Gilmoore realized that further words were useless and bent to place the required number of stitches in the man's forearm. He knew he put a little more tension on the catgut than necessary, but he didn't care. The man was a crude insensitive boor, little better than a brutish animal. He was actually sorry that more stitches weren't needed, he was enjoying the man's discomfort. As he returned the instruments to the sterilizer, he sensed movement behind him and turned to meet the boy's puzzled blue gaze.
"Yes, what is it Tyrus?"
"Why do the humans like to hurt us so much?"
"Tyrus," Gilmoore sighed, "there are some people who can only feel important when they are making other's miserable. They hate anyone who is even a little bit different from themselves. But it isn't all humans, Tyrus. I'm human and I don't hate you. You're human too, Ty."
The wide blue eyes stared into his own, searching. "But Mr. Thresher said........"
"I can just imagine what Mr. Thresher said." Gilmoore interrupted. "Tyrus," he put his arm around the boy's shoulders, "come over here, son. I want to talk to you for a minute."
Immediately, the young InVitro put his arms around the older man and bowed his head against Gilmoore's chest submissively.
Gilmoore pushed the boy away slightly. "No, Ty," he shook his head to emphasize the words. "Don't do that, son."
McQueen looked even more puzzled and more than a little hurt. "I thought you liked me? You said you didn't hate me, did I do something wrong? I didn't mean to do anything wrong."
"No, son, you didn't do anything wrong. I mean you did, but you didn't know any better, so you didn't. Oh, never mind Tyrus. Come over here. I want to talk to you about some things."
McQueen blinked rapidly and for a moment Gilmoore thought he would start to cry. "Are you mad at me? Are you going to send me back to the mine?"
"No, Tyrus, I'm not mad at you. But you will have to go back into the mine eventually, there's nothing I can do about that. Sit down, son. Now listen to me, Tyrus. What you did wasn't necessarily wrong, it was just that you don't have to do it. You don't have to do it with anyone if you don't want to. Do you understand? No one has the right to make you do that kind of thing."
"Not even the Misters?"
"No, no one, Tyrus. Not even the Misters."
McQueen shook his head "But the Misters made us. We have to do what the Misters tell us to do or they will un-make us. As long as we do all our work and don't do anything wrong they will take care of us and everything will be Ok. If we don't do what they say we would be doing wrong and they will hurt us so we learn how not to do wrong."
"Tyrus," I don't know if I can explain this to you, but I want to try. The 'Misters' didn't make you. You are as human as I am, as they are. You have a choice. Just because they tell you to do something doesn't mean that it's right. You do what they say because they hurt you if you don't. I understand that, and you can't be blamed for that. No one wants to be hurt. But you also have the choice to refuse and accept the hurt. Do you understand, Tyrus? You are a human being and human beings have choices."
"But they say they know what is best for us so they tell us what to do because we can't think as good and everything and they're real smart."
"There's a difference between smart and educated, Tyrus. They have more education than you but that doesn't mean that they know what is best for you. What they know is what's easier for them. And it's much easier for them if you do the work."
"How do you get educated, then sir?"
Gilmoore smiled, the boy was bright. "You've already started on the road, Tyrus. You ask questions, that's the first step. Watch what goes on around you and you'll learn from it. And probably the best way is to read. Read everything you can. You're welcome to read any and all of my books. And when you have read one, we can talk about it. You can ask me questions about what you have read. How would that be?"
The boy's eyes wandered over the two tall bookcases. His shy smile faded abruptly. "What if I don't know all the words?"
"Then you can come ask me and I tell you what the word is, ok?"
"What happens when I go back into the mines?"
"You can still come over after your shift and read the books and we'll talk about them. Just like before."
The smile was back. "I like that, Sir. I won't hurt any of the books. I'll be real good. You'll see."
Gilmoore tousled the sandy curls. "I know you will, Tyrus, I know you will."
He was rewarded with a quick kiss on the cheek. The boy paused at the door and looked back. "I wanted to do that. To thank you." Then he was gone.
"Yes, Tyrus. What is it?"
McQueen held out the book. "I was looking at the pictures in this book. Will you tell me about Earth?"
"Well, it's very different from Omicron Draconis. There is more water vapor the air and the atmosphere has more oxygen. That means it isn't as difficult to breathe there and it means there is more water so you can have all you want to drink. That why Earth has grass instead of barren rock as we have here. It has a yellow sun and it is farther away from that sun. All this is why the sky is blue instead of red."
"Are there others like me on Earth?"
"Yes. There are InVitros on Earth. That is where you were conceived, Earth."
The boy pondered that for a moment. "I've read some of the other books and even though I don't understand some of the big words, I know what conceived means."
Gilmoore waited patiently, even though he knew what was coming.
"The books say it takes a male and a female to conceive a baby. I've read about InVitro's and everything and I understand that I was born out of a tank instead of a woman. And I kinda understand that I was 18 years old when I was born instead of being really little. Was I in a tank because my mother couldn't carry me when I got so old? Why did I have to wait until I was 18 to be born? Why couldn't I be born real little like the humans.....I mean natural borns? Do my mother and father know I'm here?"
Gilmoore sighed. He had thought a long time about this. If the boy had been decanted in one of the InVitro Indoctrination Facilities on Earth, he would have been told the facts of life as they applied to tanks. But here on Omicron Draconis, InVitro education was unheard of. The tanks did what they were told. Thinking was unnecessary. None of them were expected to live to go back to Earth, so why go to the expense of educating them.
"Tyrus, this will be hard for you to hear and to understand. You didn't have a father and mother. At least not in the sense that they were beings you could talk to and touch. Scientists took cells from a female and cells from a male and combined them in a laboratory. You and other InVitros like you were the result. You were gestated in and born from a tank because you were conceived in a laboratory. When Natural Borns are babies they have mothers and fathers to take care of them, to feed them and educate them until they can take care of themselves. You didn't have anyone to take care of you, so you had to wait until you were old enough to take care of yourself before you could be born. Do you understand?"
"I understand that no one on Earth knows I'm out here, and no one cares."
"I'm sorry Tyrus." The boy regarded him levelly. "How did I learn to talk and read? Who taught me? I don't know all the big words, but I can't remember when I didn't know how to read."
"That is what the second navel on the back of your neck is, Tyrus. While you were in the tank, you were connected to a machine that gave you information through a connection to your brain. That's why you have two navels and I have only one."
Gilmoore watched the blue eyes turn a translucent gray as McQueen digested this information. "If no one wanted me, if no one cares, why am I here?"
"Please don't ask me to answer that, Tyrus."
"Son, look around you. Do you think any man would do this work willingly? You're here because they needed someone to work in the mines. They've got you for five years because that's how long it will take to pay back the expenses incurred in your birth. They get cheap labor."
"They get a slave. I didn't ask to be born."
"I know son, I know."
Gilmoore watched the young Tank walk toward the door. McQueen paused a moment before turning. When he did, there was a look on his face that Gilmoore had never seen before, a numb closed in look. "Thank you very much for your kindness, DR Gilmoore, and for the use of your books. Good night." Then he turned and walked out into the night.
Gilmoore watched the boy as he crossed the exercise yard, thinking how hard it was to watch a man's dreams die. He wondered whose dreams had died the hardest, his or McQueen's.
Next : Part Two
Edna Houston © 1996