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
“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
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.
* * *
The factory was working at full swing when Cornelius reported for his shift. The robots on two of the lines were turning out aircars, moving the vehicles from station to station to have
parts added, then nanowelded by a spray of microscopic robots, leaving not even a mark to show where the new part had been attached. Men sat in the booths overlooking the floor, supervising
the work robots. Each could only watch two of the bots at a time because of the Man in the Loop Accords.
Not that these robots are likely to rip themselves out of the floor and grow the processing power to be a threat, thought Cornelius as he reported to his booth, nodding at the guy they had hired to take
Parker’s place. Not his fault, he thought of the new guy, who just seemed happy to have a job. Still, Cornelius couldn’t help but feel some resentment for the replacement who had taken the place
of his old friend.
Cornelius sat at his station and started up his board. The ticker said he still had five minutes before his lines started up. He was in charge of the same two robots today that he was every
day, something that made the job a little boring. His would nanoweld and connect the control runs to the lift fans that the newbie’s robots would lower into place. He just had to make sure that
the robots were running within parameters, and watch that no mistakes got through his part of the lines.
The buzzer beeped and the line started up. He could look forward to ten hours of watching aircars rotate in front of him, of his robots performing the same tasks over and over. Three
days a week he sat here, eating his lunch at the board, not even taking bathroom breaks, as his nanites were programed to delay bladder fill while he was at work, only allowing enough fluid out
that he could take care of in his two ten minute breaks. It was monotonous. Or it should have been, except when the bot on the three line started to overheat, and stopped making all the proper
“Shit,” said Cornelius, hitting the button that shut down the entire line. That was considered serious action, but he had been at the job long enough to feel confident that when he did it,
it needed to be done. He shunted his other robot off to the newbie, whose name he couldn’t even remember. It was no use shutting down both lines, and the newbie could watch two robots on
line four while Cornelius looked into the situation.
First he checked the computer readout for the robot, which told him absolutely nothing about why it was malfunctioning, other than that the actuator of one of the arms was hot. There
was nothing for it but to go on the line and give the unit a look. If he could fix it he would. If not, he would call in those who could.
The line was always noisy. It was easy to forget while sitting in the insulated booths, but this was heavy machinery, lifting large parts into place while assembling vehicles. It could also be
dangerous. The three line, the one he was approaching, was still, but he had to walk over the four line to get to it. Cornelius could see why robots frightened some people, tales of the revolt two
centuries before notwithstanding. The robots of four line were moving quickly, and even with built in failsafes they could still snag the unwary.
Cornelius kept a close eye on four line while he walked three. Vehicles were still being put together over there, and the line would assemble hundreds of them in a day. Three line was a
row of unfinished vehicles that were not going anywhere at the moment. He stopped in front of the recalcitrant machine and put his hand on the arm in question. It was hot to the touch, and he
noticed that a thin line of smoke was rising from a port. He stuck a multitool into the port and turned it, and the arm opened up along the seam that appeared. And more smoke poured out of
the opening, along with a lick of flames.
What the hell, thought the man as he saw what looked like an oily rag burning. With a thought he tapped into the factory com system and sent a situation report to management. It doesn’t
look like this problem is going to be easily solved, he thought. They could clean up the rag easily, and replace whatever parts were damaged by the fire. But this looked like something deliberate, and
that meant this would be investigated, with all the hassle that entailed. So much for a quiet day at work, thought Cornelius, knowing that he would be investigated as well.
* * *
“Would Milady like another cup of tea?” asked Katlyn, holding a tray with pot, sugar and cream. The woman she was questioning, a guest of the Baroness, performed the difficult task of
looking up and looking down her nose at the servant at the same time.
“Yes, I think I will,” answered the woman, holding up her cup.
Katlyn put the tray on the table and picked up the teapot to pour, her eyes glancing at the baby in the lap of another guest. The little girl was smiling and laughing, and waving her pudgy
little arms. And why can’t I have one like you to hold, thought Katlyn as she poured the tea. The baby was distracting, and she wasn’t paying attention to what she was doing.
“You stupid little whore,” yelled the well dressed guest as hot tea spilled onto her dress.
Katlyn looked down in horror, dropping the teapot to land on the carpet. She scrambled to get to her knees and picked up the pot, watching the darkening stain of liquid spread across the
“I am so sorry, Marta,” said the Baroness, her cold eyes glaring at the servant who had burned her guest.
“I am sorry, ma’am,” said Katlyn, putting the pot back on the tray, then snatching up a cloth and moving to wipe down the woman’s dress.
“You stay away from me,” said Marta, knocking Katlyn’s hand away.
“Leave us, Katlyn,” said the Baroness, pointing at the door to the kitchen. “Wait for me, and I will be in to talk to you shortly. And send Kimberly out to serve us.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said a dejected Katlyn, picking up the tray and carrying it to the kitchen, listening as the women talked about how clumsy and stupid she was. She was near to tears as she
entered the kitchen, but remembered to send a com call to Kimberly, summoning her to the kitchen.
“What’s wrong?” asked the other servant as she entered the kitchen and saw the tears on Katlyn’s face.
“I screwed up, Kimberly,” said Katlyn, feeling a sense of almost hysteria coming over her. “I was paying attention to the baby and not to what I should be doing, and poured hot tea on
one of the Baroness’ guests.”
“It will be alright,” said the other woman, putting together another tray. “Just calm down, and it will be OK.”
Katlyn could tell from the expression on Kimberly’s face that the other woman didn’t think it would be OK. She was just saying words she thought might calm Katlyn.
Kimberly came in and out of the kitchen several times over the next hour, while Katlyn sat in a chair and waited to hear the verdict from the woman who employed her. It seemed to take
hours, but eventually the Baroness came into the kitchen, her cold blue eyes fixed on Katlyn like lasers.
“How dare you injure one of my guests,” she said, walking over to the quickly standing young woman.
“Was she burned badly?” asked Katlyn in a panicked voice.
“Nothing that nanites can’t take care of,” said the Baroness, putting her hands on her hips. “That’s not the point, you little common born trash. You caused distress to my guests, and I
will not have that. You are no longer in my employ. You will leave this house immediately, never to return.”
“Please,” said Katlyn, dropping to her knees and grasping at the employer’s dress. “No. It won’t happen again.”
“No,” said the Baroness, taking a step back and glaring down at the girl. “It will not. At least not by you. There are a thousand girls out there waiting for your position. And one of them
will have it. Now leave, before I call security to escort you out.” The woman turned and started to walk away, then spun back around on her heel. “On second thought, I don’t want you
absconding with any of the silverware.”
A few moments later a large man in the uniform of a liveried security appeared and dragged a shocked Katlyn off, adding insult to injury. She walked in staggering steps to the nearest bus
line and caught the next one to the central station. She stared straight ahead the entire trip, not even taking in the scenery from on high like she normally did. What am I going to tell Cornelius, she
thought. They would still do well enough on his income, but she wanted to feel like she was contributing to their progress up the financial ladder. Now she was to be relegated to the role of stay
at home housewife, and without even any children to look after. She cried her way to the central station, and then on the elevated train home, where she sat in the living room and cried some
more, waiting for her husband to come back from work.
* * *
“And then they escorted me from the manor like a common criminal,” stammered a crying Katlyn as Cornelius held her in his arms.
Bastards, he thought of the people who had caused her such trauma. And all because she made a simple mistake, spilling some tea on her betters. Betters, he thought with a flare of anger.
As if any of those people are actually better than we are. Cornelius knew he had above average intelligence. He had been tested back in primary school. But a commoner needed much more than above
average to compete with the nobles for the slots needed for higher education, at least on New Detroit. Maybe if we were on Jewel, or a University rich planet like Avalon. It was said that even those
with slightly above average intelligence scores could attend a University on those planets, if they had the proper work ethic.
He wiped a tear away from Katlyn’s face, looking into the eyes of the woman he loved. So she’s not as bright as some, he thought, studying her classically beautiful features. That’s alright.
I’m here to do the thinking for us. “Look. I’ll talk to my father and see what he can do. He has the ear of the Duke, after all. So what’s the word of some damned Baroness?”
“You really think he’ll be able to do anything?” she asked, sniffling.
Hell no, thought her husband, nodding his head. You’re not important enough. “Of course. Look what he did for me.”
Katlyn’s eyes unfocused for a moment, the sign that she was accessing some information. “Your sister will be here in an hour,” she said, standing up from the couch. “And I don’t have
“You get cleaned up,” said Cornelius, giving her a quick hug. “I’ll order a delivery.” As the last word left his mouth he jacked into the local net and looked over the menus of the local
delivery joints. With another thought he ordered Chinese and authorized a debit from his account.
“You look beautiful,” he told his sister as she walked in the doorway with her husband an hour later. Natasha did look beautiful, with a glow to her face he had never before seen. Her
husband, Larry, alternated between smiles and an expression of worry.
Natasha took off her coat, and even in the baggy clothing she was wearing it was obvious that she had gained weight, most of it…
“Are you pregnant?” asked Katlyn after hugging Natasha, then holding her back with hands on the other woman’s arms.
“I am,” said Natasha with a smile, her eyes taking on the worried look of a caged animal.
“How did you guys get a reproduction license?” asked Cornelius, suspicion raising its ugly head. “You’re younger than I am, Larry, and I’m looking at slim to none chances.”
“We, we didn’t get a license,” said Larry in a hushed voice, as if afraid that he would be overheard. “I had a friend who reprogramed our nanites. Made us both fertile. And then, it was
just God’s will and nature.”
“Are you fucking crazy,” yelled Walborski, fear and anger warring with each other in his feelings. “How in the hell did you expect to get away with that? What were you thinking?”
“We wanted a baby,” said Natasha, as if that answered everything.
“We decided to trust in God,” said Larry, looking upwards. “He will see us through this.”
“Christ,” cursed Cornelius, looking at the idiot his sister had married. He turned his glare on his sister. “And how is God going to hide the fact that you are pregnant? Or the child, after
you give birth, if it goes that far?”
“God will protect us,” said Larry, trying to smile.
And you’re still freaked out about what’s going to happen, thought Cornelius. Despite your assurances that your God will take care of you.
“Why don’t we eat?” said Katlyn, gesturing toward the dining room, where the Chinese delivery was laid out.
Yeah, why don’t we, thought Cornelius. A last good meal for my sister and brother-in-law.
The meal was mostly eaten in silence. Cornelius kept staring at Larry, blaming him for everything that was about to happen to his sister. If they’re lucky they’ll just get a forced abortion, and a
maybe some incarceration time in a work camp. That didn’t happen very often. There was always the possibility of mind wipe, and his sister would not know him, and he would really not know her,
only her physical appearance.
“How in the hell could they do that?” he complained to Katlyn after their guests had left. “What were they thinking?”
“That they wanted a child,” said Katlyn with a far away look. “Just like most of us.”
“It’s against the law. We are on a population controlled planet. People just can’t have unlimited children, unless we want the overcrowding they were said to have had on old Earth. I for
one like some wilderness area to roam around in.”
“And you only get that because of your father,” said Katlyn in an angry voice. “The rest of us have to make do with the parklands they allow us common folk to use.”
“It’s a job, honey,” said Cornelius, feeling a bit put off by her accusation that he was privileged to hunt the wilderness, something the average citizen couldn’t. “It pays for things like this
apartment, and our aircar. I had nothing to do with being the child of a gamekeeper.”
Katlyn got up from the couch, glared down at him with a pout, and stomped away to the bedroom. Dammit, thought Cornelius, ordering the trivee on with a thought. I just can’t win today.
He knew he would have to watch some of the vee, and let Katlyn fall asleep. Otherwise he would have to endure the tense silence of her laying with her back to him. So he sat and steamed,
while the trivee recreated the scene of a popular comedy, something he was not the least bit interested in.
* * *
Cornelius walked slowly through the forest, placing his feet with care, trying to move like a shadow. The birds, or what passed for birds on New Detroit, sang, croaked and twittered from
the trees. At times they would go silent, and the crunching of heavy footfalls would come to his ears. Damned tenderfeet, he thought of the nobles he was leading through the forest. They were
here at the invitation of the Duke to hunt this planet’s version of big game. And big it was. Today there were on the trail of a five ton carnivore that was this planet’s prime predator. And it was
his job to get them a kill without losing any of the idiots along the way.
And if they keep making so much noise we’ll be lucky if we don’t see any King Tigers. And if we’re unlucky, one of the noble assholes will become food for the beast.
Up ahead was the small river that watered this acreage of the forest. The watering point for the herbivores, and therefore the prime hunting ground of the carnivores. Cornelius spotted
the blind that was his favorite in this area. It was masked with native scents, sprayed earlier by other foresters working for the Duke. Today’s prey would not smell them if they reached the blind
without notice, which was what he was worried about. Kings had a great sense of hearing, and every kind of sound masker tried had just ended up attracting their attention.
Cornelius settled himself into the blind and looked through the scope on his particle beam rifle. His was the only military class weapon out here. The rest of the hunters were here to
bring home trophies, and a beam weapon didn’t leave a good hide. But someone had to be ready for the unthinkable, to save the hides of the rich bastards if one of them made a critical error.
The three men he was leading settled into the blind, setting their rifles on the edge and looking through their scopes. Two of the men, a balding fat man and a thin as a rail elder, were
clumsy in their movements. The third handled himself and his weapon with quiet efficiency. The Marine, thought Cornelius, nodding at that man with approval. He was a distant cousin of the
Duke, and a serving Captain in the Imperial Marines. And the only one to treat Cornelius or his father like they were actual human beings.
[Only fire at the ones I designate as targets] sent Cornelius over the com link. The Captain acknowledged immediately. The other two stared at him like he was a pack animal that had
just learned to talk.
And then they waited. Several herbivores, from delicate antelope like beasts to plodding armored things that weighed twelve tons, appeared at the river bank to drink. The bald man
raised his rifle to shoot at one of the later, and Cornelius grabbed his barrel and pushed it down.
“How dare you, you common pig,” said the fat man.
[We’re here to get Kings] he sent over the circuit. [If you want a Parson’s Rhino, then by all means we’ll take you on a hunt for one. But these other gentlemen are here for Kings.]
[Ease up, Humphrey] sent the Marine, putting a hand on the fat man’s arm and squeezing until the other guy groaned. [I want a King. And I won’t hesitate to mount your fat hide on my
wall if I don’t get one.]
Humphrey nodded his head, and the waiting began. Eventually something rustled the bushes, and a heavy dark form came loping out of the foliage. It stopped, crouched down on its six
legs, while its ears moved independently to scan the area. Its striped coat of purple and red moved with the play of muscles. Cornelius admired the animal as it bent down to drink, knowing that
this was not one they were after. It’s still a baby, he thought of the six hundred pound beast. Which means momma and the others are around here somewhere. He didn’t want them to shoot a baby, or a
mother that was still taking care of the young and teaching them to hunt. This one was more independent than his littermates, and had come on ahead. He scanned the jungle up from the river,
hoping that a big male would appear. Kings hunted in prides, and where there were young, there were sure to be adults.
The young King at the river howled, and Cornelius swung his rifle to get a look at it in his scope. The animal was falling to its knees, blue tinted blood staining its beautiful coat.
“I told you not to shoot at anything I didn’t designate as a target,” he said, pulling the rifle out of the fat man’s hands.
“But it was standing right there, you low born ape,” growled the man.
“It was a juvenile,” said Cornelius, staring into the man’s eyes without flinching, making the noble recoil. “They are protected by law.”
“It looked big enough to me,” said the man, looking down.
“Look out,” yelled the tall thin man, and Cornelius turned in time to see an enormous female King Tiger come running at the blind. He quickly got behind his rifle and pulled the trigger,
sending a dark red beam into the jungle. A tree exploded from a hit, and the guide pulled the beam into the carnivore. With an explosion of flesh and blood the beast went down.
“That was the momma,” said Cornelius, glaring back at Humphrey. “The daddy will be out there as well, and now he will be hunting us.”
“So if we shot him wouldn’t she hunt us?” asked the thin man.
“It doesn’t work that way. If we killed the male the mother would have run off with the young to protect them. That’s her instincts. But the male will seek revenge for his mate, that’s
the way he’s wired.”
“So what do we do?” asked Humphrey, his face a mask of fear.
“We stay put, and wait for the air rescue car to come to us. And hope maybe the male does something stupid, and puts himself in our sights.”
“Is he likely to do that?” asked the Marine Captain.
“Not really,” said Cornelius, shaking his head. “He’s most likely waiting out there in the jungle for us to come to him. He saw what happened to his mate, or at least what remains of her. He
knows what we can do, and will try not to attack where we can get a shot at him.”
“How smart are these things anyway?” asked the Marine, the only one who seemed to be keeping his head.
“Not as smart as us. But a lot smarter than your house cat. They can reason enough to make them dangerous.”
So they waited, until the com came in from the rescue craft, which put down in the small clearing near the river. The door gunner kept the other side of the clearing covered while Cornelius led
his charges to the car. They were almost there when a roar erupted from the jungle and five tons of angry male King Tiger came charging out. Cornelius tried to get his weapon around in time, realizing
that he wasn’t going to make it, and the animal was headed right for him. The crack of a hypersonic pellet sounded, and the beast staggered, then fell as another round struck it in the center of its chest.
The carnivore fell, and Cornelius turned to see the Marine Captain standing in a shooters stance, his mag rifle to his shoulder.
“That was great shooting, my Lord,” he said to the noble. “And thank you.”
“At least we have our trophy,” said the Captain, looking over at the other two nobles. “Or at least I have mine.”
On the ride back to the manor the other nobles stared at Cornelius with hostile looks, and he heard whispers about how they were going to complain about the hunt, and how the game keeper
had bungled it.
“And I will tell my cousin that you fools almost ruined it for us all,” said the Captain, smiling at Cornelius. “I had a marvelous time, and I will name you both cowards if you say anything at all.”
The rest of the flight was in total silence, and Cornelius realized that not all nobles were bad after all. Just the majority.
* * *
“So what the hell do you think I had to do with it?” asked Cornelius, looking across the table at the three interrogators, one from the factory management, one from the police, and one from the
“Directly,” said the Baron’s man, “nothing. But we understand that Parker Murphy was not only your line mate, but your friend as well. And that you were there the night he talked about
getting back at the Baron.”
“He didn’t say he wanted to get back at the Baron,” said Cornelius. “He called the people over him bastards, but he never said he was out for revenge.”
“And you didn’t think to tell anyone about the incident at the bar?” asked the detective.
“You all arrested him,” said Cornelius, trying to keep his voice calm. “I would think you would know what he said. I gave a statement to your men.”
“But you didn’t tell us,” said the manager, pointing his finger at Cornelius. “We might have been able to prevent the sabotage if we had been given advanced warning.”
“What did you want me to do? He didn’t work here anymore, and he didn’t make any direct threats. This is a free society, or at least I thought it was, and we are free to speak our minds.”
“Do you like working here?” asked the manager. “Any complaints you would like to voice?”
And lose my job, thought Cornelius, shaking his head. Not me. “I have no complaints. You have been very good to me.”
“And have you had any contact with Mr. Murphy since that night?” asked the detective.
“None,” said Cornelius, knowing he was telling the truth, but still nervous under the scrutiny of the other men.
“It would be a good idea if you kept your distance from Mr. Murphy,” said the Baron’s man. “That’s all. We’ll call you in if we need to talk with you some more.”
Cornelius walked out of the room with mixed feelings, fear and anger. This was supposed to be a free society, where people could live their lives as they liked. But it’s a lie. Live like a free man
and they can slap you down. Maybe not legally, but they control the economy. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea, leaving the core worlds and going to the frontier.
An incoming call chirped on Cornelius’ link as he was flying home. The connection showed him his father as on the line. Wonder what he wants. I’m going to see him in a few days anyway. Hope the
hunt isn’t off. “Hey, dad. What’s going on?”
“I have some bad news, Cornelius,” said the sad voice of his father. “It’s your sister.
“What happened to her?” asked Cornelius with a sinking feeling. She got caught, her and Larry. How the hell did they think they could get away with it.
“The police came for her today at her job,” said his father. “And Larry as well. They were arrested for illegal procreation.”
“Do you know what’s going to happen?”
“I don’t know, son,” said the elder Walborski. “I’ve contacted a lawyer, but what he told me really doesn’t get my hopes up.”
“Mind wipe,” said Cornelius in a quiet voice.
“We can hope not, but I’m afraid that’s a possibility.”
“Are you still going to do the hunt?”
“I’m obligated to it,” said his father. “If you want to bow out, that’s fine. I can get another man to help.”
“No,” he said, shaking his head, then looking at the cityscape passing below. “Katlyn lost her job with the Baroness, and I need to make up that loss.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” asked his dad.
“Was there anything you could have done about it?”
“Maybe,” said his dad quickly. “Probably not. I don’t know. Did the Baroness say she was going to blackball her.”
“That was the impression I got, dad.”
“Then probably not. At least not at the moment. Give me a little time and I might be able to get her on with someone else.”
The next day his father got in touch with him again, and gave Cornelius the news he had been dreading.
“Mind wipe,” said his father in a hushed voice. “She’s gone to us.”
“Didn’t take them long, did it?” said Cornelius in a growl.
“The evidence was irrefutable,” said his father with a sob. “She was pregnant, and there was only one way that could have happened. So they aborted the baby and took away her memories,
and those of Larry. We’ve lost her, son. The body is still alive, but there is nothing there that connects her to us. I’m glad your mother isn’t here to see this.”
And I wish she was, thought Cornelius. Mom had died years ago, in an aircar accident that hadn’t left enough of her around to reconstruct, unless they resorted to cloning, which, of course, was
highly illegal. Cornelius still missed her terribly, as he was sure his father still did, as he had not sought any kind of female company since her death. But his father also had a point. The sentence would
have ripped the heart out of their mother. Mind wiped offenders were given new personalities, with new lives, and families were not permitted to have contact with them.
Katlyn took it no better than he did. “It was a stupid thing to do,” she said, tears in her eyes. “But to kill her like that. And the baby.”
“If they let anyone get away with it they wouldn’t be able to stop unlicensed reproduction.”
“You sound like you’re defending the assholes,” yelled Katlyn, glaring.
“I’m not defending them. Hell, they just took my sister away from me. I’m just saying how things are, and how they will remain, as long as we remain here.”
“Your poor father. God, what he must be going through.”
And she didn’t take the hint about remaining here. Maybe we need to pack up and move to the frontier. Hell, the Fleet protects it, and there are troops on every planet. Maybe not as many as here, but enough to keep the
pirates away, and that’s really the only worry we would have out there. “Have you thought about leaving New Detroit?” he asked her.
“Not really. Maybe for a developing world. At least they have some civilization.”
And a couple of hundred million people who have already gotten all the good stuff. “We would do better on a frontier world. Get some land, turn it into more land. Maybe even be rich someday, and have
lots of kids.”
“And I heard that frontier worlds are dangerous,” said Katlyn. “Almost no medical facilities, and everyone walks around with guns. No, I want no part of them.”
After Katlyn went to bed Cornelius tapped into the net and routed some vids to the trivee, letting it immerse him in another world. He started with a map of the Empire, looking at how the
worlds were situated. Of course the center of it all was the Supersystem, the eight stars in orbit around a black hole, each with two or more habitable worlds. And all with the same restrictions as New
Detroit. And out from it in a globe to two hundred light years, the core worlds, ninety-eight worlds in the same class as New Detroit, all populated to the legal limit. And out from them, the twelve
sectors, all of them with some contact with an alien polity. Sectors I and IV with the least contact, meaning they were also the least likely to be invaded. And ten thousand developed, developing and
frontier worlds in those sectors, with more being opened all the time, or terraformed to be compatible with human habitation.
Next he scanned down a list of frontier planets in sector IV, looking for those with low enough population that they would be considered true pioneers. One on the list caught his eye, a world
with less than a hundred fifty thousand inhabitants, that had been colonized for about thirty years. So they know enough about it that there shouldn’t be any surprises. And it’s on the short list of planets under
consideration for a Fleet base, which means more security than most frontier worlds. Sestius IV. Doesn’t even have an Archduke yet, only an appointed Governor.
He linked into the trivee and let a vid of the planet fill his room. The small city loomed ahead, then the farmlands around it, with actual livestock. Real food, he thought. Not just tank grown
protein and factory processed vegetables. The vid moved out, and he was surrounded by a lush jungle, then a plane, with massive creatures grazing on the grass like ground covering or the trees at the edge of
the open area.
He finally delinked after what seemed like mere minutes, before he realized that hours had gone by. I don’t have to work tomorrow, he thought, remembering the images he had been immersed in.
And that place doesn’t look so bad, especially if it becomes a Fleet base. Now, I just need to talk Katlyn into it.
* * *
This day they were hunting bigger game, the twelve ton Hexa-Buffalo, the beasts that were one of the reasons the King Tigers grew so big. A lot of people thought herbivores were the gentler
animals, spending their days as they did cropping grass or watching for predators. Cornelius knew better. He had hunted these beasts before, and if given his choice he would rather have gone after the
tigers any day. Again he carried a military grade particle beam rifle, an emergency weapon for the possibility that one of the noble born asses might botch his shot.
“You be careful out there,” his father had told him before the party split up, his father with the other men who would approach from downwind, using their scent to move the herd in the
direction of the shooters.
“You too,” said Cornelius, giving his dad a hug. He was the last family that the young man had, or at least the last genetic relation that actually knew who he was.
Humphrey was on this hunt, still wanting that big trophy head to mount in a study, so he could lie to his friends about how brave he was. There were two other nobles, including the Duke
himself. Cornelius knew that the Duke was a skilled hunter who could be depended on to stand his ground and make a good shot. Still, he wished the Marine Captain was taking the place of either
Humphrey or the other noble, a young man whose frightened eyes tried to look everywhere at once.
“There they are,” whispered the Duke, coming up beside Cornelius. He nodded back, having already spotted the herd, including a magnificent bull, as large as any that the young man had ever
“Who takes the first shot, my Lord?” asked Cornelius, watching as the herd began to move their way with a lowing sound.
“Let Baronet Kroger have it,” said the Duke, motioning at Humphrey, who was looking wide eyed at the large animals, sweat pouring down his face.
“Yes, my Lord.” Cornelius made his way over to the Baronet, then motioned for the man to squat down while he went to a knee. “That big bull is yours, my Lord. Make sure your weapon is set
to maximum accel, and only fire when I tell you.”
“I know what I am doing,” said the fat man. “Don’t tell your betters what they must do.”
“Again, my Lord. Only fire when I tell you to. Those are the Duke’s orders, not mine. If you have a problem with them I will ask him to come over and tell you himself.”
“Insolent swine,” whispered the man, trying to look fierce as he turned his eyes on Cornelius, and only managing to look scared.
“Here he comes,” whispered Cornelius, looking over his own scope at the big male. He’s fifteen tons if he’s a kilo, he thought. Too good a trophy for this bastard. And I don’t want him too close, in case this
son of a bitch doesn’t bring him down. “Fire,” he said to the Baronet. Nothing happened, and he saw the big bull tearing at the grass with all six hooves, then start trotting their way. “Fire, damn you,”
yelled Cornelius, taking his eye off his scope and glaring over at the noble.
Humphrey pulled the trigger, and Cornelius knew something was wrong by the way the rifle recoiled. It was a high end hunting rifle, and had grabber units built into it to take up some of the
recoil, but still should have pushed the man back more than it did. The man fired again, and the rifle again barely bucked.
“What the hell did you do?” yelled Cornelius, pulling the rifle hard out of the man’s hands. He looked in disbelief at the velocity setting, which was the minimum the rifle was able to send a shot
Another round cracked by at high velocity, and Cornelius looked up and out to see a cow by the bull go down to her knees, while the bull and the rest of the herd turned tail and took off at a
run. More shots, and some other beasts were hit, none hard enough to bring down. Cornelius brought up his weapon and tried to get a shot at the bull who was leading the herd toward his father. But
there was too much dust, too many other darting forms. He took a shot and killed a smaller bull, but only a kill of the dominant male could stop them from the charge.
“Goddammit,” he yelled, jumping up and running after the herd, fearing the worst. The herd charged to the wood line and in, taking cover, all but the dominant bull, which was stomping and
ramming his horns into something on the ground.
“Good God, no,” yelled Cornelius, seeing his father’s rifle on the ground near the bloody mess that in no way resembled a human being. He brought his rifle up and shot the bull, a narrow beam
that burned a hole through the hindquarters and out the chest, dropping the beast. He stumbled up to look down on the bloody meat, splintered bones, and torn rags that had been his father, tears
rolling down his cheeks. The other men in the beating party gathered around, looks of disbelief on their faces. The elder Walborski had been a fixture of the hunts for decades, and to be taken in such a
manner was beyond comprehension.
The Duke and the other men came up a minute later. The Duke looked like he was about to cry as well. But Baronet Kroger only had eyes for the big bull. “My trophy,” said the man, all
smiles. “He will look fine mounted on my study wall.”
Cornelius turned, grief becoming rage in a second. He walked over to the man and slammed his fist into the fat face, knocking the Baronet to the ground. “This was your fault,” he screamed at
the man. “If you had checked your rifle and made sure that it was set right, this bull would have been killed. But you didn’t have the brains for that, you stupid son of a bitch. I’m going to…”
Cornelius stepped forward, then brought his other leg coming for a kick. Two of the beaters grabbed his arms and held him back, while the Baronet held his hands over his face, trying to protect
“Calm down son,” said the Duke, putting a hand on Cornelius’ shoulder. “This is a tragedy, but it will do you no good to get violent.”
“I will have you thrown in jail,” yelled the Baronet, pushing himself up to a sitting position. “You assaulted me, and I will see that you serve time in a labor camp.”
Cornelius pulled at the men holding his arms, but they were strong and would not give him an inch.
“Go home, Cornelius,” said the Duke, patting him on the shoulder. “I will make sure that your father’s remains are brought in for cremation.”
“I want him arrested, now,” yelled Kroger, getting to his feet.
“Don’t worry about jail,” said the Duke. “You’ve been through enough.”
Cornelius nodded and walked away, still steaming inside with a murderous rage. Someday I’ll see that son of a whore by himself, and he’ll die. Even as he thought that he knew it would never happen.
Men like Kroger, the privileged, were always protected. The best he could hope for was to be stunned by security and taken to jail.
* * *
“You no longer work here,” said the shift leader as Walborski tried to go to his station.
“What do you mean?” asked Cornelius in shock. He had taken a couple of shifts off to attend his father’s funeral, then set his dad’s affairs in order. But that was all according to company
policy, and had been approved ahead of time.
“I’m not really sure what happened, Walborski,” said the shift leader. “It came down from management that you were no longer to be allowed on the line. I guess that means you were
“Terminated?” said Walborski, still in shocked disbelief.
“I am really sorry, Walborski,” said the foreman, shaking his head. “It’s not up to me, and. I guess I shouldn’t say anymore.” The foreman turned away, still shaking his head.
He’s worried that he might lose his job, thought Cornelius as he turned away. And I really can’t blame him. This isn’t a free society. We’re only free to cut our own throats with our actions.
Later he tried to get in touch with the Duke, but was turned away. Calls to the employment services did no better, and he soon found that he was not employable on this planet. And then all
the money in his and his father’s accounts disappeared, and he knew that the enemy he had made on that hunt was getting him, and he had no way to get back at the Noble bastard.
* * *
“What’s wrong?” asked Cornelius as he came in the door of the apartment and saw Katlyn sitting on the couch, crying, the big cat in her lap. He had been fruitlessly searching for a job, taking
public transport now that the aircar was gone. And the answer had been the same at every venue. He had the skills that robotics factories were looking for, but he had a black mark on his record.
“The apartment manager informed me that we have to move out by the end of the week,” said his wife, tears rolling down her face. “What are we going to do?”
“I don’t know. It looks like I’m sunk on this world. All I have to look forward to is a life on the dole.”
He thought for a moment and looked at his wife. “I’ll give you a divorce if you want. So you can find, you know, someone with some prospects.”
Katlyn stood up and put her arms around him. “I don’t want someone with prospects. I want you.”
“Then I don’t think we can stay here,” he said, looking into her eyes. “I wouldn’t be satisfied just existing.”
“And where would we go?”
“To the frontier,” he said, a smile crossing his face. “To the land of opportunity. What say we give it a try. How would you like to become a Marquise?”
“I’ll go anywhere you do,” she said, sitting back down and stroking the cat. “As long as we can find Big Tom here a good home before we go.”
* * *
The freighter didn’t look like much, even to someone who had never been in space before. It was a hyper V tramp, thought to be good enough to haul prospective colonists to sector
transshipment points, where they could be loaded up on other ships to get to their final destinations.
Cornelius could tell that Katlyn was terrified as she looked at the cryo chamber that was to be her resting place for the next four and a half months. It would be transferred to another ship with
her in it.
“I’ll hold your hand while they put you under,” he said, holding her. “And I’ll be there when they wake you. Look, it’s got to be better than spending a third of a year sitting in cramped quarters
for the voyage out.”
“It’s OK,” she said, in a voice that told him it was anything but. “Help me into the thing.”
That looks like a coffin, he thought, as he helped her to step into it. Medical staff started to attach sensors and push tubes into her veins, while he stood over her holding her hand. Before he knew
it she was unconscious.
“We find it better to put them under as soon as possible,” said one of the techs, while another pumped nanites into her body. Cornelius knew they would scour her cells of ice crystals before she
came out of cryo, and repair any damage caused by freezing. Then the lid was lowered and sealed, and his wife was quick frozen while he looked on with some anxiety.
“Look,” said the tech who had been talking to him. “This is old, tried and true tech. The founders used it for a thousand years to come into this space, without a loss. Well, maybe closer to five
hundred years ship time with dilation. But the point is that it works, and works well. And we’ve improved it in the last thousand years. So your wife and you will awake in a new system.”
“You been out to the frontier?” asked Cornelius as he climbed into his chamber, sitting next to Katlyn’s.
“A dozen times,” said the tech. “I really prefer it to the core worlds. Tens more years of this and I plan to start a new life out there as well.”
“A new life,” said Cornelius as the needles were inserted into his arms. Then the world faded and he knew no more.
“What happened?” he asked a different tech as his eyes opened. “What went wrong?”
“Nothing,” said the tech. “You’re going to be a little disoriented for a bit. But you’re here, at your destination. We’re about ready to wake your wife.”
Cornelius sat up in his cryo box and tried to get out. “Take it easy,” said the tech, putting his hand on Cornelius’ chest.
“I promised my wife I would be there when she came to,” said Cornelius, pushing the hand away and climbing out of the box. He staggered over to the next box and looked down on his wife,
still undergoing the process of reawakening. He stood over her till her eyes fluttered, then opened. She saw him and focused, a smile touching her lips.
“We made it, honey,” he said, gasping her hand.
The flight to the surface was bumpy, in an old shuttle that had seen better days. They walked out onto a tarmac that was relatively unscared. A flock of flying creatures, not birds, flew
overhead, and they looked up, then started walking to the terminal.
“We made it,” said Cornelius, squeezing Katlyn’s hand. “We made it.”
“To our new life,” she said, looking into his eyes. “And a family. As soon as we can I want to start a family.”
“I can do that,” said Cornelius with a laugh. “It will definitely be my pleasure.”